A Dog’s Purpose Producer and Animal-Rights Activist Gavin Polone Explains Alleged Abuse

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Film Title: A Dog's Purpose
Photo: Storytelle/Universal Studios

Boycotting A Dog’s Purpose is a personal decision, but make sure you have all the information, one of the movie’s producers asks. Gavin Polone is a longtime animal-rights advocate and film producer, and the movie about canine companionship was a passion project for him. So when footage was released by TMZ showing a clearly terrified German shepherd named Hercules being forced into a pool of churning water, he launched his own inquiry into what exactly happened. His conclusions: that video wasn’t in any way indicative of animal treatment on set, and it misrepresents the entire production and that one scene. In his Hollywood Reporter op-ed, Polone wrote that he questioned studio executives and viewed all footage shot the day the video was taken.

As with the TMZ video that you saw, two things were evident: (1) the dog handler tries to force the dog, for 35 to 40 seconds, into the water when, clearly, he didn’t want to go in; and (2) in a separate take filmed sometime later, the dog did go into the water, on his own, and, at the end, his head is submerged for about 4 seconds. These two things are absolutely INEXCUSABLE and should NEVER have happened,” Polone wrote. The producer says that he holds himself accountable because he didn’t protest the film’s hiring of an American Humane Association (AHA) representative to oversee animal handling. “I knew and had written about how ineffective AHA has been over the years … [AHA] is the standard guarantor of animal safety on all studio productions and I was not consulted when they nor the dog trainers were hired,” Polone wrote. “I should have fought with the studio to come up with alternatives to serve those functions.”

The footage released to TMZ, Polone wrote, edited out context necessary to understanding the dog’s distress. After rehearsing the scene without protest, the dog’s mark was swapped to the other side of the pool, causing the animal to get spooked. When the scene was filmed as it was rehearsed, the German shepherd was fine. Polone censures both the person who took and held onto the video, along with PETA’s calls for a boycott.

PETA told TMZ it plans to picket this Friday’s opening of A Dog’s Purpose, but Polone suggests audiences take a closer look at its practices. The production ought to take responsibility for a few moments of distress, he argues, but PETA’s vitriol is directed at the inclusion of animal actors in any circumstance. “Not only have they been circulating the TMZ video, which portrays an inaccurate picture of what happened, but they have included a clip from our trailer where you see the dog jumping into a treacherous rushing wall of water. But THAT ISN’T A REAL DOG, it is a computer-generated dog leaping into the water. Isn’t that the definition of ‘fake news’?”

A Dog’s Purpose Producer Explains Alleged Abuse