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'A Dog's Purpose' backlash over leaked video
02:17 - Source: HLN

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A video reportedly showing a dog in distress on the set of 'A Dog's Purpose' has prompted PETA to call for a boycott

The producers and distributor of the upcoming film say the production team "followed rigorous protocols to foster an ethical and safe environment for the animals"

CNN  — 

An on-set monitor with American Humane, an organization that ensures the safety and well being of animals used in film and TV productions, has been placed on leave following the unauthorized release of a video allegedly from the set of “A Dog’s Purpose” showing a dog in apparent distress while filming a stunt.

“American Humane has reviewed the video and we are disturbed and concerned by the footage. When the dog showed signs of resistance to jumping in the water, the scene should have been stopped,” said a statement from the organization to CNN. “We are placing the safety representative who was on the set on administrative leave immediately and are bringing in an independent third party to conduct an investigation into this matter.”

American Humane, who awards its “No Animals Were Harmed” certification to films who meet their standards for on-set animal safety, monitors about 2,000 productions annually, according to its website.

On Wednesday, TMZ published a minute-long video that showed a German Shepherd unwilling to perform a stunt for the upcoming film in rushing water and in danger of drowning when the animal eventually submerged in the pool.

CNN has not been able to independently verify the video’s authenticity.

“A Dog’s Purpose” producer Amblin Entertainment and distributor Universal Pictures said in a statement to CNN on Wednesday that the production team “followed rigorous protocols to foster an ethical and safe environment for the animals.”

On Thursday, Amblin and Universal canceled plans for the film’s Los Angeles premiere event and junket.

“Amblin and Universal do not want anything to overshadow this film that celebrates the relationship between animals and humans,” the companies 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.”

A “review into the edited video released [Wednesday] is still ongoing,” according to Amblin and Universal. Both parties “continue to support this film, are incredibly proud of it,” they added in the joint statement.

According to the producers and studio, several days of rehearsal took place to ensure the dog was comfortable while performing the water scenes. The initial statement following the video’s release confirmed that the dog was at one point hesitant to perform the water stunt, but the companies insist filming did not continue.

“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,” the statement released Wednesday said. “Hercules is happy and healthy.”

Animal rights advocacy group PETA has called for a boycott of the film, set for release on Jan. 27.

“PETA is calling on dog lovers to boycott the film in order to send the message that dogs and other animals should be treated humanely, not as movie props,” the organization said a statement.

Actor Josh Gad, who voices the titular dog in the film, said in a letter posted to Twitter that the “disturbing” footage left him “shaken and sad.”

“As the proud owner of a rescued dog and a fervent supporter of organizations like PETA, I have reached out to the production team and studio to ask for an explanation for these disturbing images,” he wrote.

The movie, based on the book by W. Bruce Cameron, follows the story of a dog named Bailey (Gad) over five decades as he experiences multiple owners and forms and “finds the meaning of his own existence” in the process, according to press materials.

The dog roles were played by a Golden Retriever named Trip, a German Shepherd named Shadow, a Corgi named Mailo and a St. Bernard-Australian Shepherd mix named Bolt, according to documents given to press about the film.

A representative for Amblin said both Hercules and Shadow performed stunts for the film.