A Dog's Purpose Producer Pens Op-Ed About Film's Controversy: "Love of Animals Defines My Existence"

Gavin Polone raised a few more questions about the nature of the video and took aim at PETA and the American Humane Association

By Samantha Schnurr Jan 23, 2017 6:58 PMTags
E! Placeholder Image

Controversial footage from the set of A Dog's Purpose has raised many questions. Now, one of the film's producers is adding a few more of his own to the list. 

In a newly penned op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter, columnist and producer Gavin Polone shared his reaction to a video published by TMZ from the set of the film allegedly taken in 2015. In the clip, a handler appears to dip a German Shepard named Hercules into a pool of water and then pull him out and later shows a dog under water in a pool. To begin, Polone, who said he was not on the set at the time of the incident, wanted those reading to know that animals have a special place in his heart, too. 

"My will is set up so that all I have shall be donated to charities benefiting animals when I die," he wrote for the magazine. "The most consistent and closest relationships I've had throughout my life have been with animals...Love of animals defines my existence, and that love is what drove me to struggle for years to get Bruce Cameron's brilliant and widely cherished novel about the bond between a person and a dog made into a movie."

"Now, the idea that I'm connected to an accusation of the abuse of a dog is, to understate it, painful," he continued. 

Unusual Celebrity Pets

Early in the lengthy essay, Polone acknowledges two moments in the footage—the dog appearing to be dipped into the water and then pulled out and a second shot of a dog submerged in water. "These two things are absolutely INEXCUSABLE and should NEVER have happened. The dog trainer should have stopped trying to get the dog to go in the water as soon as the dog seemed uncomfortable, and the trainers should have had support under the dog as soon as he came to the side of the pool and/or had less turbulence in the water so he never would have gone under," Polone argued.

However, the producer also took issue with several others involved in the scenario, including the American Humane Association representative on set, the person who shot the video and PETA. 

A Dog's Purpose Author W. Bruce Cameron Speaks Out About Controversial Video

"The American Humane Association (AHA) representative who is paid by the production to 'ensure the safety and humane treatment of animal actors, as its website states, should have also intervened immediately on both of those parts of the filming. So should have whomever was running the set. Those individuals should be held accountable and never used again by that studio or its affiliates," he wrote.

The on-set monitor was placed on administrative leave following release of the video. In a statement from Mark Stubis, a spokesman for the American Humane Association, the organization is "bringing in an independent third party to conduct an investigation." "When the dog showed signs of resistance to jumping in the water, the scene should have been stopped," Stubis added. 

As for the video itself, Polone claims the footage was from two separate instances later edited together.

A Dog's Purpose: Josh Gad and Lasse Hallström "Shaken" Over Animal Mistreatment

"Why did the person who shot the video on his camera phone...edit it to seem like the two clips were connected and not let you see the dog was alright and never in mortal danger? Also, why did he hold onto the video for a year and three months before releasing it? If he wanted to protect animals, wouldn't he want whoever did wrong stopped from doing the same on other productions immediately?" he asked. 

In regard to PETA, Pollone claims the organization has instigated bad press for the film. "It has called for a boycott of the movie and, unlike any other major animal welfare group, has been fomenting negative publicity around these events with great energy," he wrote. 

"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"? In another post, they show a German Shepard in a dismal steel cage, which isn't our dog. Again, misleading."

A Dog's Purpose Premiere and Press Junket Canceled Amid Animal Abuse Investigation

"It doesn't matter whether there was a diver in the pool to rescue the dog when he went under. It's irrelevant that he's now reportedly safe. What matters is that, according even to Polone, this dog made his feelings known, loud and clear, about being forced into rushing water to produce a swimming scene and attempted to escape—yet into the water he was made to go," PETA Senior Vice President Lisa Lange said in a statement to E! News in response to Pollone's comments.

"Perhaps it's easy to dismiss being submerged underwater when you're not the one desperate for air, but for the dog, it was undeniably a terrifying experience. Blaming the whistleblower who filmed the ugly incident is a cheap and cowardly response. TMZ did a public service by releasing the footage."

Birds and Animals Unlimited, which supplied dogs for the film and has also been called into question by PETA, issued its own statement explaining how they had successfully rehearsed the stunt from a different entrance to the pool. 

"It quickly became apparent that Hercules did not want to enter the pool from this [new] location," the company told E! News. "After less that one minute of Hercules insisting on getting back to his original starting point, this plan was abandoned and he was brought to the end of the pool from which he'd been conditioned to enter, and he did so happily." 

While later swimming in the pool, "the current carried him closer to the wall at end of the pool than it had in previous takes. When the dog reached the wall, he was briefly submerged at which point the diver and trainer immediately pushed him to the surface. Trainers poolside then pulled him out of the water. Hercules shook the water off and wagged his tail."

The company noted an American Human Representative was present at all times to approve every shot and when Hercules was in the water, trainers and a diver were in the water and standing nearby.

"Birds and Animals Unlimited is currently reviewing available footage of these scenes and is evaluating its legal options. In the meantime, we strongly encourage the news media that receive such disturbing, defamatory and maliciously edited videotapes to exercise caution in their broadcast and characterization."

While the premiere and press junket have since been canceled, Polone made his own suggestion for how to improve the situation moving forward. "I say that we build a better method of protecting animals on sets through a better animal protective service," he concluded.

"I swear to you, whether I make another dime on this movie or not has no effect on my life. But if studios stop backing films like A Dog's Purpose because they fear being attacked by groups like PETA, and kids who are now the age I was when I formed my understanding that animals are deserving of love and protection can't see those movies, it will absolutely have a negative effect on animal welfare in the future."

Meanwhile, the film is still slated for release on Jan. 27. 

"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," Universal Pictures said in a statement to E! News. "We continue to support this film, are incredibly proud of it and will release it for audiences nationwide [on Friday]."

(E! and Universal Pictures are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)