A reader recently asked me what I think of the controversy over the movie A Dog’s Purpose, particularly allegations that a dog was abused during filming.
I had had tickets to a preview showing that was a fundraiser for a local dog rescue organization. However, the preview was canceled and the rescue organization took a loss once the film clip showing the alleged abuse was released, so I was already following this controversy.
Here’s my take on it.
First, a caveat: We’ll never know the whole story. There have been good questions raised about the film clip like, how much it was edited, why the person(s) who had it waited more than a year to release it, and why they filmed rather than intervening. I don’t know the answers to those questions.
But. I watched the film clip several times. That dog is terrified. His tail is tucked and he is using every bit of his strength to try to get away. Out of the water. Away from the edge. At one point, he leans, hard, into the person who is pushing him toward the water. He is doing absolutely everything he can to say, “No. I don’t want to do this.” He’s scared.
Actor Dennis Quaid claims the dog was just tired and not afraid. The video does not bear that out.
American Humane says the dog was never in danger, he was not forced, and the film clip shows footage from two different times edited together. This could all be true. It does not change the dog’s body language, though. The dog felt that he was in danger, and he let the humans, who are supposed to keep him safe, know that. They responded badly.
Various responses say that there was a diver ready in case Hercules (the dog) needed help, the water was warm, etc. That all might be true too.
The bottom line for me, however, is that, even if the dog was not actually harmed; even if the humans nearby knew that he was in no danger because they were standing by to rescue him if need be, the dog was scared. Terrified. Even if ultimately the trainers did not force Hercules into the water, they clearly asked him to do something that he was very, very uncomfortable with. They persisted, even pushing him, holding him to keep him from escaping. To me, that is forcing him into a terrifying situation. Hercules had no way of knowing that a diver was ready to “save” him. He probably wasn’t worried about whether the water was too cold. He might have been tired. If so, to me, that just points a finger back at those who were supposed to be Hercules’s advocates.
Hercules was being used to film a movie. A movie. To entertain, well, us. The audience for that movie is dog lovers: Me. You. Nearly all of my friends and family. I personally do not want to be “entertained” by something that was created by scaring a dog (or possibly several dogs) and working him to the point where he is so tired that he freaks out.
You want to use animals in entertainment? Then train them, humanely, patiently, and sufficiently that they can do what is asked without fear or force. Work them in short spurts, make sure that they are treated well on and off the set, and ensure that they are always safe and they always feel safe. Even without knowing all of the facts, I feel comfortable saying that I do not think that those conditions were met for Hercules.