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'No Animals Were Harmed,' Not So Even with AHA 'Oversight'

Abuse and death of animals in Hollywood continues despite supposed monitoring.

I've written a number of essays about the continued abuse and death of nonhuman animals (animals) in Hollywood and just this week I was informed of a very important essay by Gary Baum in The Hollywood Reporter called " No Animals Were Harmed " (please also see an essay published in the  New York Times  called " Flaws Seen in Protection of Animals on the Set " by Michael Cieply and  " Animals in Film: "No Animal Was Harmed" Just Isn't So " and links therein). 

The AHA clearly rubber-stamps "No Animals Were Harmed"

"On Disney’s The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, horses were repeatedly pulled for injuries – internal AHA notes from a single day show that 14 were out of commission at once. Yet it received the 'No Animals Were Harmed' credit because, the organization now explains, none of the injuries were serious or due to “intentional harm.'”

The essay by Mr. Baum with illustrations by Jeremy Enecio is very well written but remains a very difficult and heart-wrenching read because it is very clear that the inexcusable and brutal abuse and death of animals continues to occur despite supposed oversight by the American Humane Association (AHA). Representatives of the AHA continue to deny that no animals were harmed in the making of films, but others who actually were on site have witnessed the horrific abuse of animal actors. 

Here are some snippets from the  The Hollywood Reporter  essay, and it is clear that extreme abuse took place despite the presence of AHA monitors.

“LAST WEEK WE ALMOST F—ING KILLED KING IN THE WATER TANK": In " The Life of Pi ", King, a Bengal tiger, was used when a digital alternative didn't work. According to AHA monitor Gina Johnson, “This one take with him just went really bad and he got lost trying to swim to the side ... Damn near drowned.”   Mr. Baum writes, "King’s trainer eventually snagged him with a catch rope and dragged him to one side of the tank, where he scrambled out to safety. 'I think this goes without saying but DON’T MENTION IT TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THE OFFICE!' Johnson continued in the email, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. 'I have downplayed the f— out of it.'”

And there's more: 

"A Husky dog was punched repeatedly in its diaphragm on Disney’s 2006 Antarctic sledding movie Eight Below, starring Paul Walker, and a chipmunk was fatally squashed in Paramount’s 2006 Matthew McConaughey-Sarah Jessica Parker romantic comedy Failure to Launch. In 2003, the AHA chose not to publicly speak of the dozens of dead fish and squid that washed up on shore over four days during the filming of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Crewmembers had taken no precautions to protect marine life when they set off special-effects explosions in the ocean, according to the AHA rep on set.

"And the list goes on: An elderly giraffe died on Sony’s 2011 Zookeeper set and dogs suffering from bloat and cancer died during the production of New Regency’s Marmaduke and The Weinstein Co.’s Our Idiot Brother, respectively (an AHA spokesman confirms the dogs had bloat and says the cancer “was not work-related”). In March, a 5-foot-long shark died after being placed in a small inflatable pool during a Kmart commercial shoot in Van Nuys."

One more sickening incident is worth highlighting although all of the instances of abuse are inexcusable and deserve widespread public attention. Mr. Baum writes, "The symbiotic relationship between the two organizations is important in light of an incident that occurred June 9, 2010, during the filming of Courage. That day, a horse named Glass—known for his gentle demeanor, one blue eye and a distinctive white blaze of mane set against a shimmering black coat—was fatally injured when a 'runaway' wagon really did lose control and the carriage’s crossbar broke (think of a pencil snapping), impaling the animal’s left hindquarter. 'He then went into shock from extreme blood loss and the vet decided it would be more humane to euthanize him than allow him to suffer,' according to an internal AHA report."

It is worth revisiting the topic of animal abuse in Hollywood and to protest it until it stops. The last sentence of Mr. Baum's essay nicely summarizes what is still happening. “'The moral compass of the entire place is off the hook,' says one AHA employee. Adds another: 'We’ve been hopeful for change, but not this. It’s not changing. It’s getting worse.'”

It's time to stop using live animals in film once and for all: Our choices count and make a difference

One way to stop the use and continued abuse and death of animals in film is to stop using them once and for all. A wonderful example of what can be done is the movie " Rise of the Planet of the Apes " (please see "' Rise of the Planet of the Apes'" shows that real primates no longer need to be used in movies "). 

You can voice your opinion by contacting the  Academy of Television Arts and Sciences  at 5220 Lankershim Blvd North Hollywood, California 91601; telephone: (818) 754-2800) or you can email them  here . You can also  contact movie studios  and email the American Humane Association at  info@americanhumane.orgYou can also choose to watch films in which animals were not used .

The animals who are used in film do not have a choice but we do, and we can easily make a huge difference by letting those who continue to abuse animals or look the other way or play the blaming game and shun responsibility know that we do not like what they do and that we will not watch their films.

It is really worthwhile reading Mr. Baum's essay carefully to learn about the lame excuses the AHA offers for the horrific and brutal deaths of animals in film. And, you can do something about it, so please do. Let's make it clear that rubber-stamping "No Animals Were Harmed" will no longer work.

The teaser image can be seen here

Marc Bekoff's latest books are  Jasper's story: Saving moon bears ( with Jill Robinson; see  also ),  Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation  (see  also ) and  Why dogs hump and bees get depressed  (see  also ).