A Dog’s Purpose: To View Or Not To View

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. 





4 thoughts on “A Dog’s Purpose: To View Or Not To View

  1. Perfectly stated – thank you for weighing in.

  2. I will definitely not be spending any money to watch this movie very disappointed!! Such a shame there are so much animal cruelty in the world and then they want to make a film about a dogs purpose? And then force a scared dog into the water that’s cruelty!!!

  3. I was going to go but they were sold out. After reading this there is not a shot in hell I would pay money to see this but take your great suggestion and donate it to a rescue. Love SYSS even more after reading this, if that was even possible?

  4. I say this with all due respect – you seem to contradict your stated beliefs in this opinion piece. You state that when photographing pets “at the first or ANY sign of distress” you stop the session. But you then mention, in regards to your photo shoot with professional baseball player Ian Desmond and his pitbull pup “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.” From your posted piece it seems clear to me that….

    1. you actually don’t stop shooting at the first sign of distress in an animal. In this case it was almost five minutes of distress. And even then…..

    2. YOU didn’t stop the shoot. You sat in silence after the pup went into hiding until the OWNER said “that’s it. I can’t do this to him.”

    3. You also state “no film, no photo, no campaign is worth causing anguish to a living, breathing being” yet again, in the above case you spent almost five minutes shooting photos of a puppy obviously suffering from stress. Why? Why did you do that? Because you had a client, an employer, etc, to please and as professionals, you wanted to please him/them? That’s my guess. I’m not judging, only asking you to read what you wrote, then acknowledge the parallels you share with the film crew.

    It’s ok. I understand why you would try so hard to get good shots, as that is what you were being paid to do. Or if you volunteered to do it, getting good shots is what you were expected to do, as professionals. You take pride in your work and don’t want to disappoint anyone….. similar to the trainer and production crew on the set of ADP. Right?

    I point these inconsistencies out to you so you can perhaps look at this video from the same angle you look at your own work when your four legged client is fussing or anxious: there is a job to be done, and you (and the ADP film folks) attempt to do it to the best of your ability, and in a humane way, while being aware of the animal’s comfort, or discomfort level, and doing your best to alleviate or at least reduce the stress the animal is enduring. Again, similar to the ADP trainer and crew when they decided to return to the other side of the pool, where Hercules was allegedly more comfortable.

    The author and producer are both passionate about animals, and it’s truly a shame that they have been hurt, personally and professionally, by the attacks on them and their film. This incident should have certainly been brought to their attention to be addressed, but not this way and not a year later. The good people involved with this film did not deserve to be blindsided regarding an incident of which they had no knowledge. Not only that, countless numbers of homeless animals in shelters, and at Best Friends in UT have been hurt by this PETA campaign. Best Friends for example, was to receive matching donations from Universal Pictures. up to $25,000.

    Although fans of PETA are few and far between, I give credit where credit is due. I admire and respect PETA for having the guts to use unconventional methods to garner the attention of, or to “wake up” the public regarding serious animal welfare issues that need to be addressed. But right now I am extremely upset with and disappointed in PETA, not only for misrepresenting the facts in this incident, but for continuing a forward attack with their calls to boycott the film.

    Please look inside of yourself to see if what you wrote regarding the movie is truly how you still feel, and if you still believe that this incident was so egregious that it justifies encouraging people to boycott one of the rare wholesome, family films produced in years. I hope not.

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