In January, TMZ published a video taken on the set of A Dog’s Purpose that appeared to show the film’s handlers forcing a distressed dog into a pool of water. The video quickly went viral and prompted the cancelation of the film’s premiere while sparking protests at theaters where the film was being released. Now, an independent, third-party investigation found that the video had been edited to mischaracterize what actually happened.
The American Humane Association, the organization that supervised the treatment of the dogs on the film’s set, issued a statement this morning that the investigation had concluded and that the video “was deliberately edited for the purpose of misleading the public and stoking outrage,” noting that the two scenes in the video had been edited together. The report backs up statements from the film’s crew that the video was misleading, though it has not been made available for review, and a request to the American Humane Association weren’t returned by publication time.
The organization explained that the investigation had been carried out by “conducted by a respected animal cruelty expert.” It found that experts were present, that the proper safety precautions were taken during the film’s production, and that the dog in question was healthy.
The statement also explained that the dog, a German Shepherd named Hercules, had been “trained and conditioned” for his scenes, and that while he did show signs of distress, filming had stopped and that he “was not forced to swim in the water at any time.” American Humane agreed that the “handling of the dog in the first scene in the video should have been gentler and signs of stress recognized earlier,” but explained that the production was adjusted and proceeded without incident.
American Humane used the statement to blast animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the video’s creators for stoking the controversy, noting that the release appears to have been timed in conjunction with the film’s release. According to Deadline, it’s not entirely clear if the video had any effect on the film’s box office totals, which pulled in around $20 million during its opening weekend.
Even if the effect of the video was minimal, the video going viral certainly stoked outrage on social media, which put the film’s creators in a position where they had to spend weeks defending their production, rather than the film itself. After a year where the spread of fake news reports percolated through social media, it’s worth remembering that fabricated and planted stories aren’t limited to the realm of political discourse.