The "animal abuse" in A Dog's Purpose doesn't look much like abuse

For the record, I have not yet gone to see the newly released movie A Dog’s Purpose. I didn’t have any complaints about it and I love animal stories, but having the seen the trailers I was worried that I’d just end up sniffling through the whole thing. Quite a few other people did go see it on the opening weekend, but not quite as many as might have were it not for a bit of controversy swirling around it. As this Associated Press filing reveals, the film took in nearly as much as it cost to make in the first couple of days, but complaints about alleged animal abuse on the set slowed down the box office traffic.

Opening in theaters amid controversy over animal treatment on set and calls for a boycott, “A Dog’s Purpose” still managed to earn $18.4 million, according to studio estimates Sunday…

But even with the newly anointed Oscar nominees and the sleeper hit of “Split,” many eyes were on “A Dog’s Purpose” this weekend. On Jan. 18, TMZ released a video of a frightened dog from “A Dog’s Purpose” that apparently was forced into rushing water during the making of the film. The footage quickly went viral.

PETA called for a boycott of the film, while the studio and filmmakers canceled its press junket and premiere but still proceeded with releasing the film in over 3,000 locations as planned.

If there’s any sort of animal abuse going on I definitely want to know about it. Keep in mind that you’re reading this under the byline of somebody who has been hip deep in animal welfare for a long time. I’ve written here about my complaints with SeaWorld, circuses and zoos. I met my wife when we were both volunteering at a Humane Society shelter and as I type these words there is a three legged cat drinking the rest of the milk from my morning bowl of cereal. I’m fairly sure that I made the first two years of payments on our veternarian’s new Jaguar single-handedly.

But were any dogs in the film being abused? It all comes down to this anonymously shot video from the set of the film which showed up at TMZ before it was released. Take a look for yourself.

I’ll confess that even I was slightly alarmed by the footage at first glance, but there’s nothing all that overt going on. It looks as if the handler is trying to push the dog into the “rushing water” (which is actually a tightly controlled chute on a movie set) and he’s not that thrilled about going. We get some additional background from the star of the film, Dennis Quaid, during this interview with the Today Show.

The explanations given here and in other interviews provide what seems like the most logical explanation. That dog had already been in the water a dozen times when that highly edited footage was shot. His trainer had him jumping in after a favorite toy. They moved the area where the dog entered a bit closer to the water input for this take so perhaps he was a bit more hesitant. There were platforms under the water for the dog to stand on and divers were in the water with him (off camera) standing by in case the dog got in trouble. The dog did plenty of “interviews” after the fact and seemed no worse for the wear.

But beyond all that, it boils down to the one question which Quaid puts forward in the interview above. If the unknown person who took (and presumably edited) this footage was so concerned for the animal’s welfare, why wasn’t this made public fifteen months ago when it took place? Why wait for a year and a half unless, as Quaid suggests, it was only to hold out for the timing which would produce the best price from TMZ?

As I said above, if there was even a hint of serious animal abuse going on here I would be out front with a blistering attack on the film and everyone associated with it. But that really doesn’t seem to be the case at all. The dog seems fine and this looks like a stunt designed to draw a lot of clicks if you ask me.