On 18 January 2017, the web site TMZ published a video that allegedly shows a frightened German shepherd being forced into churning waters on the set of the movie A Dog’s Purpose:

Amblin Partners and Universal Pictures said in a statement that they are aware of the video and are investigating:

Fostering a safe environment and ensuring the ethical treatment of our animal actors was of the utmost importance to those involved in making this film and we will look into the circumstances surrounding this video.

Although none of the actors in the movie can be seen in clip displayed here, TMZ reported that director Lasse Hallström was on set during the incident. The scene that was likely shot in the leaked video can be briefly glimpsed in the movie’s trailer at the 1:30 mark:

Accusations of animal abuse on the set of A Dog’s Purpose are particularly jarring, as Universal Pictures used the movie to promote animal adoptions and promised to match donations to the Best Friends Animal Society:

Best Friends Animal Society is partnering with Universal Pictures and A Dog’s Purpose to help more homeless pets find forever homes. And you can help, too!

Now through February 28, when you sponsor a dog who’s waiting for a home, Universal Pictures will match your gift, up to $25,000. That means you can give twice the love and care to a dog who needs it with just one gift.

Shortly after the video went viral, The Best Friends Animal Society released a statement explaining that they had discontinued their association with the film:

Best Friends was founded on the belief that every animal has intrinsic value. Every partnership we enter into is fully vetted and held to the high standards of our partnership policy. Two of our guiding principles also offer clarity into the way we approach our partnerships:

  • Golden Rule: To treat all living things as we ourselves would wish to be treated.
  • Kindness: To demonstrate compassion and respect for all living creatures.

Our involvement with the movie A Dog’s Purpose was from a marketing aspect. We planned to participate in the promotion around the film to reach dog-loving movie goers. The more people we reach to raise awareness and promote adoption, the more animals we can help save.

While we still don’t know the facts of what happened on that set, the video that some media outlets aired was enough for us to make the decision to discontinue any association with or promotion of the film.

American Humane, the group that ensures animal safety on movie sets, suspended the representative who worked on the film and hired an independent investigator to examine the incident. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have also called for a boycott of the film based on the leaked video.

On 23 January 2017, Gavin Polone, one of the producers for the movie, penned an article for The Hollywood reporter explaining what went wrong during the scene. While Polone admitted that mistakes were made, who also said that the TMZ video was misleading and that Hercules, the dog in the video, was unharmed:

In footage of the rehearsal for the scene, you can see the dog not only unafraid of the water but desperate to jump in. In fact, he had to be held back by the trainer from going in too soon (the dog was trained to retrieve a toy sewed into the hoodie of the stunt woman and give the illusion that he was pulling her to safety). The dog did the scene in rehearsal without problem, though it was from the left side of the pool, not the right side, which is where the dog is in the TMZ video. Also, in the rehearsal footage, it’s clear that there is a safety diver and a trainer in the pool to protect the dog in case of a problem, as well as two trainers, a stunt coordinator and a safety officer on the deck, and that there are platforms built into the pool where the dog can swim to and stand, if need be. The pool was heated to between 80 and 85 degrees, causing it to steam.

Before the first real take, the handlers were asked to change the start point of the dog from the left side, where he had rehearsed, to the right side. That, evidentially, is what caused him to be spooked. When the dog didn’t want to do the scene from the new position, they cut, though not soon enough, and then went back to the original position. The dog was comfortable and went in on his own and they shot the scene. The TMZ video only shows the unfinished take of when the dog was on the right side. What is clear from viewing all the footage was that the dog was NEVER forced into the water.

From a front angle, when they shot the scene, you can see that there is a calmer path in the artificial water turbulence for the dog to move through. This is not visible in the TMZ video. You can also see, at the end of the scene, the dog going underwater for four seconds, which never should have happened, and then the diver and handlers lifting the dog out of the pool. The dog then shook off and trotted around the pool, unharmed and unfazed. They only did one take of the full scene and then ended for the day. TMZ’s edited version gives the impression that the dog was thrown in and eventually drowned, since the two parts seem to be connected. You never see him pulled out and OK. This is highly misleading.

Further, I saw video shot last Thursday morning of the dog and I’m happy to say that Hercules is obviously quite well.