By Lauren La Rose
THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO _ Amidst outrage over the alleged mistreatment of a German shepherd while shooting the upcoming film “A Dog’s Purpose,” animal trainers and agents say it’s essential to consistently advocate for the safety of four-legged actors on set.
Video footage posted on entertainment website TMZ appears to show the distressed dog forced into turbulent water during the film shoot, which took place near Winnipeg in November 2015.
Javier Schwersensky, head of the Winnipeg Humane Society, said his group was consulted for two scenes in the movie, but not the one involving the alleged abuse. He said the video suggests the dog was not properly trained and “weeks if not months” of work would’ve been needed to prepare the animal for what it faced.
The film’s producer, Amblin Entertainment, and distributor, Universal Pictures, said in a joint statement “there were several days of rehearsal of the water scenes to ensure Hercules was comfortable with all of the stunts.”
Abbotsford, B.C.-based animal trainer Gerry Therrien says he’s been in the field for 36 years, working with animals including dogs, cats, lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, jaguars, bears and wolves on a wide range of projects.
Trainers must “be able to say ‘no’ to producers and directors,” he said in an interview.They’re in a hurry, they’re in a rush. You have to understand there’s a lot of moving parts in a movie. Everybody’s under the same pressures. You have to be able to stand up and say: ‘Yeah, guys, I’m not going to do this. This ain’t going to happen. I need this much time to do this, “said Therrien.
“They’re in a hurry, they’re in a rush. You have to understand there’s a lot of moving parts in a movie. Everybody’s under the same pressures. You have to be able to stand up and say: ‘Yeah, guys, I’m not going to do this. This ain’t going to happen. I need this much time to do this,”’ said Therrien.
“You have to stand by that, and sometimes it costs you the show.”
He said he makes a point of getting the director’s shot list and storyboards, and does a thorough walkthrough of sets ahead of time. He will also consult with special-effects co-ordinators, and if weapons are being used during filming, he wants to hear the sound of the gunshots in advance. Trainers can also request air-conditioned trailers or any other essentials to ensure the comfort of the animals, he said.
Therrien said he usually has multiple dogs that all look the same to play the same role to eliminate having one canine take on too much work. There are often instances in which particular dogs will be better suited in certain conditions, be it playing a more aggressive part or navigating through water, he added.
“You have to just be very diligent in your job,” said Therrien. “The training of the animal is a very, very difficult thing; it’s a very long and hard process. But I’ll tell you what: it’s nothing compared to walking onto set and standing an animal in front of 300 people with cameras and lights and wind and having it do what you ask it to do.
“It looks all cute and fuzzy when a guy is petting an animal. You have to remember: that’s not his animal. You’re making it look like it is, but it’s a very difficult thing to do.”
On well-run sets, “sometimes they treat animals better than they treat humans,” said Carolyn Nikkanen, president of Hot Paws Talent, a division of Carolyn’s Model and Talent Agency in Mississauga, Ont.
She recalled one canine that had to be placed in water to try to swim during a shoot for an insurance commercial. Throughout filming, a handler was standing by at all times and warm blankets were at the ready, she said.
“They told us right from the beginning that the dog was going to be looked after and not stressed out. They just kept taking frequent breaks.”
– With files from The Associated Press.