by Holden Kosàly-Meyer | Staff Writer
When you see the logo of the American Humane Association in the credits of a movie, along with the message that “No Animals Were Harmed” during the film’s production, it brings a sense of relief and well-being. That slogan acts as a promise to the audience that the welfare of the animals involved in the film’s production is being considered and cared for. People accept that promise at face value as one that is being kept. As it turns out though, that promise is not being kept as well as we might think. A feature in The Hollywood Reporter, an entertainment news resource, suggests that the AHA hasn’t been as honest in their ratings as they should be.
The report, spurred by the AHA’s apparent negligence on HBO’s now-cancelled horseracing series Luck, details several incidents during productions of films, both high- and low-profile. Animals were killed, injured or otherwise harmed and, according to the report, the AHA regularly downplayed or simply ignored these incidents, putting their seal on the credits regardless.
The report includes AHA documents and emails that reveal the nature of some of the incidents, including the tiger in Life of Pi nearly drowning on set, a dog in the film Eight Below being severely beaten to stop it from fighting other dogs, and 27 animals reportedly killed in various circumstances including dehydration and drowning during production of The Hobbit. The AHA has a multitude of excuses for the incidents, such as injuries being unintentional, insignificant, or simply having occurred at a time that wasn’t officially during production.
The Reporter goes on to suggest that the AHA is closer to the Film Industry than a regulating body should be, citing the fact that the AHA gets most of its film and TV-related funding from the Actors’ and Producers’ Guilds, essentially putting them on the payroll of Hollywood itself. Former employee Barbara Casey, who was fired in the Luck fiasco, filed a lawsuit against the AHA directly accusing them of corruption stemming from their relationship with the industry. Among her complaints was an accusation of covering up the death of a horse involved in production of Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, a film that received the “No Animals Were Harmed” seal, to protect Spielberg’s image.
Relationships between the AHA and the filmmakers go deeper than the industrial, the report continues. According to unnamed sources within the AHA, monitors sent to oversee animal activity will sometimes develop friendships or partnerships with people involved in the film, affecting what they are willing to report. Those who do not develop such relationships are encouraged to do so, or to at least remain friendly and non-confrontational. Monitors who insist on doing their job and send reports of mistreatment to the higher-ups find that their complaints are often not even addressed. The monitors are then replaced with ones who are more agreeable.
The last known AHA inquiry that the Hollywood Reporter was able to find was a report on equine incidents from 2001-2006. If this is in fact their most recent, it would mean that the AHA has been unwilling to self-examine its own effectiveness in nearly seven years. Partnerships with the Film Industry have made it more profitable for the AHA to not do the job it was created to do. This is a trend all-too-common in American society. The promise made to us at the end of a movie should not be taken for granted, but enforced by public scrutiny. That promise may need to be reworded, as well, as AHA board member Candy Spelling was able to interpret it as simply meaning that no animals were actually harmed when the film as being shot, and assumes that audiences are only thinking about animals that appear on screen.
For more information, read The Hollywood Reporter’s full feature, side-stories, and documents.