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Complaint filed over treatment of German shepherd on Winnipeg-area film set

Complaint filed over dog on film set

WINNIPEG — A Toronto-based animal law organization has filed animal cruelty complaints over the treatment of a German shepherd on the set of the film “A Dog’s Purpose.”

Animal Justice says footage apparently shot near Winnipeg in November 2015 shows the filmmakers forcing the dog into turbulent water.

The footage, which first surfaced on the website TMZ, shows the distressed dog fighting to stay out of the water by repeatedly clawing at the edge of the pool.

A subsequent shot shows the dog submerged under the water while a voice is hear yelling “Cut it!” and handlers moved in to pull the animal out.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has called for a boycott of the movie, which stars Dennis Quaid and is directed by Lasse Hallstrom, and is set to be released later this month.

Animal Justice has filed complaints with officials in Manitoba. The Chief Veterinary Office of Manitoba said it has assigned an officer to investigate.

“Throwing a terrified German shepherd into rushing water is blatant animal cruelty,” Camille Labchuk, a lawyer and executive director of Animal Justice, said in a news release.

“It is illegal to inflict suffering and anxiety onto animals, and there is no loophole that lets Hollywood moviemakers get away with abusing animals on a film set.”

The American Humane society has also launched an investigation and says it has suspended its safety representative who worked on the film.

Javier Schwersensky, head of the Winnipeg Humane Society, said his group was consulted for two scenes in the movie, but not the one involving the alleged abuse.

He said the video shows the dog was not properly trained.

“Training for a scene like this should take place weeks â€” if not months â€” in advance to help a dog get comfortable with not only being in water of that depth, but also the turbulence. It also helps to ensure the dog will not suffer consequences from such a traumatic experience,” he said.

“As well, there was no safe exit point for the dog to escape the turbulent water.”

The film’s producer, Amblin Entertainment, and distributor, Universal Pictures, said in a joint statement that they are reviewing the footage, but they are confident that “great care and concern was shown” for the dog.

“There were several days of rehearsal of the water scenes to ensure Hercules was comfortable with all of the stunts,” the statement said.

Hallstrom wrote on Twitter that he didn’t witness the incident but was “very disturbed” by the video.

“I have been promised that a thorough investigation into this situation is underway and that any wrongdoing will be reported and punished,” he said in a tweet.

“We were all committed to providing a loving, respectful and safe environment for all the animals in the film.”

Actor Josh Gad, who lends his voice to a dog in the film, issued a statement on Twitter saying he has asked the studio and production team for an explanation of what he calls “disturbing images.”

He said that while the finished film is “one of the most beautiful love letters to animals I have ever seen,” he was troubled by the video.

“I am shaken and sad to see any animal put in a situation against its will,” Gad wrote.

A publicist for the actor confirmed the post was authentic.

— with files from The Associated Press

The Canadian Press