Universal Pictures has canceled the premiere of A Dog’s Purpose in the wake of backlash over a video showing a clearly distressed German Shepherd being forced into artificial rapids during filming. The clip has sparked outrage and accusations of animal cruelty and abuse.
The premiere was set to take place in Los Angeles over the weekend, but Universal and Amblin Entertainment chose to pull the plug because they “do not want anything to overshadow this film that celebrates the relationship between humans and animals.” In a statement addressing the decision, the studios said, “Since the emergence of the footage, Amblin has engaged with many associated with the production of the film, including safety personnel, trainers and stunt coordinators as part of their in-depth review. While we are all disheartened by the appearance of an animal in distress, everyone has assured us that Hercules the German Shepherd was not harmed throughout the filmmaking.”
The American Humane Association, known for its “No Animals Were Harmed” stamp of approval, has put the safety representative who was on the film’s set on administrative leave. The non-profit monitoring group has also hired an independent investigator to lead its inquiry into the footage while Amblin conducts its own review. However, the AHA doesn’t have the best track record, as The Hollywood Reporter exposed a history of cover-ups and botched investigations in a 2013 feature.
PETA has called for a boycott of the film, as well as asked for director Lasse Hallstrom and producer Gavin Polone to not only pledge never to use real animals in movies again, but to rescue the dogs used in A Dog’s Purpose from the training and handling company from where they came, Birds & Animals Unlimited. (BAU has been the target of Animal Welfare Act violation allegations for awhile.) Polone, a noted vegan and animal rights activist who has worked with PETA in the past, said it was “naïve and untenable” to consider replacing all live animals in productions with CGI characters.
“What’s needed is a replacement for the AHA,” Polone said. “There’s a person there all the time and clearly they are ineffective. That’s the issue and that’s what needs to be corrected.”
A Dog’s Purpose is scheduled for wide release on January 27th.