Following footage released Jan. 18 by TMZ showing a distressed dog forced into rushing water while filming “A Dog’s Purpose,” PETA and animal-rights activists took to social media to boycott the movie, leading to its premiere’s cancellation and protests at theaters across the U.S. Now, an independent third-party investigation concluded the clip was edited and intentionally leaked close to the movie’s release date to curve attendance.
In the video, a German Shepherd named Hercules is seen struggling in the arms of his trainer, who repeatedly attempts to push the dog into a pool of rushing water. The footage then jumps to Hercules fully submerged as handlers hurry to pull him out.
It draws necessary concern. Without context, the actions taken by the handler do appear aggressive. However, the movie’s producer, Amblin Entertainment, released a statement reassuring people that the “production team followed rigorous protocols to foster an ethical and safe environment for the animals.” Hercules, as well as the other dogs featured in the film, underwent several days of rehearsal to ensure they were each comfortable with all of the stunts.
A separate statement released by Amblin clarified that after Hercules refused to perform the water stunt featured on the tape, the team did not proceed with filming. The American Humane Association, an organization that supervises the treatment of animal actors on set, issued a final statement concluding that “the investigation confirms no animals were harmed in those scenes and numerous preventative safety measures were in place.”
Post controversy, “A Dog’s Purpose” still managed to be a box office hit, pulling in $22 million on its release date Jan. 27 and $43 million worldwide. If releasing the video really had an impact on sales it was, at best, minimal.