Animal lovers have turned on the upcoming film A Dog’s Purpose after behind-the-scenes footage appeared to show animal abuse during filming—but movie makers say that the viral video does not show the whole story.
The 1-minute clip, released by TMZ, shows a German shepherd being coaxed and eventually forced into a pool of rushing water. The footage later cuts to the dog, whose name is Hercules, struggling to swim in the man-made rapids and ending up submerged, prompting safety personnel to swim over.
“From what I’ve seen on that video, it was horrible,” says Jennifer Neville, an animal wrangler and owner of Vancouver animal talent agency Cinemazoo. “That looked like a scared dog, and I am not in support of handling animals like that.”
PETA agrees with those sentiments and, following the release of the footage, is calling for a boycott of the movie, set to be released on Jan. 27. Animal welfare organizations that had planned to host screenings of the film as fundraisers have cancelled their events, and due to the backlash, the Hollywood premiere of A Dog’s Purpose was also cancelled.
— PETA (@peta) January 24, 2017
The American Humane Association reportedly had a representative on set during shooting, which took place in Manitoba. However, since the controversy erupted last week, that employee has been suspended pending an investigation.
But before we all jump on the #BoycottADogsPurpose bandwagon, there’s more to this story. While Neville says that the video, which has now been viewed more than 7.8 million times, is disturbing, she acknowledges that we may not be seeing the full picture.
According to a statement released by Amblin Entertainment, which produced the film, they are looking into the “edited footage” but remain confident that no animals were harmed during filming.
“There were several days of rehearsal of the water scenes to ensure Hercules was comfortable with all of the stunts,” the statement said. “On the day of the shoot, Hercules did not want to perform the stunt portrayed on the tape so the Amblin production team did not proceed with filming that shot. Hercules is happy and healthy.”
In addition to the statement, the filmmakers have added a separate section to the movie’s official website dedicated to Hercules, who stars as “Ellie,” with images of the dog playing in California on Jan. 19, the day after the TMZ footage was released.
Dennis Quaid, who stars in the film, has since appeared on Ellen to stand up for the movie and its message, while also questioning why someone waited to release the footage until right before the film’s release date. Quaid and Ellen Degeneres, who is an outspoken animal rights activist, encouraged the audience to see the film—which tells the story of a reincarnated dog, his many lives and the love he brings to his numerous owners.
As for Neville, she is still not sure whether or not she will go see A Dog’s Purpose when it opens in theatres this Friday.