Like everyone, we saw the video that TMZ released on Wednesday about the filming of A Dog’s Purpose and decided to watch it. Ironically, we only knew of the film because a local rescue was screening it next week as a fundraiser and we were bummed that we’d be out of town on a photo shoot when it happened. At first glance, the story – adapted from a book of the same name – looked like a heart-warming one and anything that can help promote adoption is tops on our “must see” list.
With that in mind, we hit play and proceeded to see a very rough-hewn, phone-recorded video of a dog being coaxed, pushed and, ultimately, forced into the water while desperately trying to cling to the side and crawl out. We aren’t dog trainers, we aren’t animal behaviorists and we aren’t experts on filming or overseeing the process being done; however, we are parents, collectively, of 7 dogs and 8 cats and from that vantage point, what we saw was very disturbing.
Since then we’ve read a number of stories, press statements and posts. A number of people have pointed out that the video was shot almost two years ago and questioned why was it being released now? Could it be part of a larger corporate sabotage effort? There have been numerous posts centered on the fact that the video is obviously edited – perhaps the final seconds were shot after he voluntarily dove into the water? Could this all be much to do about nothing? Others have said – wait until the investigations are over and the full story is out.
In terms of whether to file charges or not, whether to fire someone or come up with retribution of some other kind– waiting makes perfect sense. But as someone who’s a parent to a four-legged being, I’m afraid my mind is already made up. Not just because the video left a sinking feeling in my stomach, but because we have now photographed over 125 dogs and cats – not all of them enthusiastic about it – and at the first or any sign of distress, we’ve stopped.
No discussion. No “let’s throw him in and try it again.” We aren’t making movies, we’re shooting portraits so there are no raging waters, but there are lights and sounds and a number of us making suggestions. “Could you hold him like a baby?” “Could you hold him to your chest with his legs hanging free?” “Would he sit on your shoulder if someone were holding his butt?” “Can we put another kitten in your arms?” Sometimes we do it with the benefit of a trainer and even then, we’ve been known to call a halt even when the trainer said it was okay. Why? Because the sight of any animal tired, stressed or just not wanting to do what we wanted them to do tears at our hearts and is cause for an immediate HALT to that request.
One of the most gut-wrenching shoots we ever did was with Ian Desmond, then with the Washington Nationals, now with the Texas Rangers. He had adopted his pit bull pup after he was found dumped and abandoned for God-knows how long on a rural Florida road. From the very first moment when the lights flashed and popped, this pup started shivering. We weren’t even five minutes into shooting when he jumped down, cowering, and crawled behind a sofa in the room. We all sat quietly, hearts breaking, when Ian broke the silence, “That’s it, I can’t do this to him” and I can tell you, we’ve never loved a Softie more. Instead of putting that pup through another second of anguish, we photographed Ian with our four-legged assistant, Archie, which was fitting since he also had a rescue Chihuahua at home.
That’s just one example. We’ve photographed senior dogs, abused cats, tortured puppies- all of whom were survivors that had been through hell. Not just at the first sign of distress, but at any sign of distress, we’ve called an immediate halt. Again, not because we’re experts, but because no film, no photo, no campaign is worth causing anguish to a living, breathing being.
Everyone involved with A Dog’s Purpose – the studio, the producer, the director and even marketing partners – have now said they’re appalled and had no part in the making of that scene. It’s certainly not up to us to decide whether that’s true or not, but we do have the choice whether to view the film itself. And that’s been a decision that’s easy to make. It would be impossible at this point to watch the movie and feel anything, but a pit in our stomachs and abject dread. What’s unfortunate is that screenings of the film were being used as fundraisers for shelters and rescues across the country so, once again, animals are the ones who end up the losers.
Our decision was a no brainer. We’ll buy the book, but we’ll donate any monies we would have spent on movie tickets to a local rescue or shelter. And we’ll hope that, in the future, the movie industry will think twice about how and what they make animals do under the auspices of “entertainment.”
The cover photo was shot by Leo Howard Lubow and features Ian Desmond with our four-legged photo assistant and pinch-hitter, Archie.