In a lengthy op-ed published in The Hollywood Reporter, the A Dog's Purpose producer addressed the recently leaked video of what appeared to be a scared, struggling dog forced to perform. And while the filmmaker took accountability for the animal's well-being, addressing what should have been done, he also spoke out against the "misleading" footage that led to the film's premiere being canceled.
"Like you, I’m sure, I was appalled when I saw the video, shot on the set of A Dog’s Purpose in Winnipeg in October 2015, of a dog trainer trying to coerce a frightened German Shepard into a pool," the producer wrote. "Love of animals defines my existence, and that love is what drove me to struggle for years to get Bruce Cameron’s brilliant and widely cherished novel about the bond between a person and a dog made into a movie."
"Though I was in Los Angeles when the scene in question was shot, I was on the set of the film for about 70 percent of the 11-week production and witnessed the animal trainers, from a company called Birds and Animals Unlimited, handling the animals daily. Not once did I perceive any animal caused any discomfort or put in danger — and I am very aware what a distressed dog or cat is like," he continued. "Seeing that distraught dog in the video did not comport with what I had observed in the prior weeks of production."
In the essay, Polone says he personally poured over all the footage from the day in which the incident occured.
"As with the TMZ video that you saw, two things were evident: 1) the dog handler tries to force the dog, for 35 to 40 seconds, into the water when, clearly, he didn’t want to go in; and 2) in a separate take filmed sometime later, the dog did go into the water, on his own, and, at the end, his head is submerged for about 4 seconds," he recalled. "These two things are absolutely INEXCUSABLE and should NEVER have happened."
"The American Humane Association (AHA) representative who is paid by the production to 'ensure the safety and humane treatment of animal actors,' as its website states, should have also intervened immediately on both of those parts of the filming," he conceded. "So should have whomever was running the set. Those individuals should be held accountable and never used again by that studio or its affiliates."
"I also hold myself accountable because, even though I was not present, I knew and had written about how ineffective AHA has been over the years," he wrote.
However, Polone says the video doesn't nearly tell the whole story.
"In footage of the rehearsal for the scene, you can see the dog not only unafraid of the water but desperate to jump in," he said. "The dog did the scene in rehearsal without problem, though it was from the left side of the pool, not the right side, which is where the dog is in the TMZ video ... Before the first real take, the handlers were asked to change the start point of the dog from the left side, where he had rehearsed, to the right side. That, evidently, is what caused him to be spooked. When the dog didn’t want to do the scene from the new position, they cut, though not soon enough, and then went back to the original position. The dog was comfortable and went in on his own and they shot the scene."
"The TMZ video only shows the unfinished take of when the dog was on the right side. What is clear from viewing all the footage was that the dog was NEVER forced into the water," Polone contested. "You can also see, at the end of the scene, the dog going underwater for four seconds, which never should have happened, and then the diver and handlers lifting the dog out of the pool. The dog then shook off and trotted around the pool, unharmed and unfazed. ... TMZ’s edited version gives the impression that the dog was thrown in and eventually drowned, since the two parts seem to be connected. You never see him pulled out and OK. This is highly misleading."
"Further, I saw video shot last Thursday morning of the dog and I’m happy to say that Hercules is obviously quite well," Polone said, regarding how the dog is doing now.