I don’t remember when I first saw the trailer for the movie called “A Dog’s Purpose” which is based on the W. Bruce Cameron book by the same name. It was a couple of months after we had our dog euthanized under traumatic circumstances and I just wasn’t ready for it. I like Dennis Quaid and I’m a sucker for most animal films, but it was just too raw for me. I couldn’t get through the short trailer without losing it and I told myself that I just didn’t know if I could watch the film when it was released. I decided to read the book instead and then decide if I thought I could handle the film.
The premise of the book and film is no secret. It tells the story of a dog who is born and then reincarnated a number of times as he finds his “purpose” for existence. For those of you who have not read the book, I will tell you now that it’s not all fluff and the stuff of Disney films of years past. I had a hard time getting past the first incarnation of the dog – who is named Toby – due to the way his part of the story ended. There are some serious issues addressed in the book related to animal shelters and dog breeding and crimes against animals and abuse and neglect. The book is written entirely from the perspective of the dog and I think it is true to the nature of how dogs think, behave and how they view us.
Unless you haven’t been paying attention, there was a lot of hullabaloo a couple of weeks before the film was released, thanks to TMZ and PETA. Someone from TMZ released a video clip from the filming of the movie which shows a scared and anxious dog being put into a fast-moving body of water. I won’t belabor that subject here. The vast majority of films which use living animals (as opposed to CGI) are overseen by the American Humane Association. When you watch a movie that says “no animals were harmed in the making of this film,” that is an endorsement by the AHA. The AHA was on set when this particular clip was recorded and the film did, in fact, use CGI for some of the footage. The dog shown in the clip was clearly afraid and traumatized for a period of time; he was not physically injured and the use of him in the film did not stop with the one clip now made famous by the media.
There has been a lot of outrage regarding the movie and the clip and some have called for people to boycott the film. If you are of the opinion that the one clip should be used to define not only the film, but the message behind the book and the film, you are entitled to that opinion. I’ve read the producer’s position on what happened and I’m honestly okay with his response. This was an isolated incident in a film which was produced by an animal lover who is probably more mortified and angered by what happened than any of us. Steps are being taken to investigate the incident. I choose to believe that the positive that will come from this is that AHA will be put under more scrutiny in the future and the use of living animals in films for certain scenes will be considered more carefully when the use of CGI will do just fine. This is not the first film in which animals have endured some trauma or died while AHA was on the set. Perhaps it will be the last.
I deal with a lot of really serious issues related to animal welfare on my website. I fully acknowledge that some people are outraged about what they saw in the TMZ clip. But my question to them is this: if you are so outraged by what you saw over a period of seconds and which did not lead to physical harm or long-term damage to a single dog, where is your outrage over the other issues addressed in the book and present in our society? Are you outraged about the destruction of healthy and treatable animals in places we call “shelters” using your tax dollars? Are you outraged by the commercial dog breeding industry which enslaves dogs in cages the size of your dish washer for years to be bred over and over again to meet demand for those cute little puppies in a store window? Are you outraged by people who objectify certain breeds of dogs or who keep dogs chained 24/7/365, practically weaponizing them in our communities?
I am not being dismissive of what happened when "A Dog’s Purpose" was filmed. I simply ask you to channel your outrage and look at the bigger picture of very important issues in our society which lead to very real neglect, abuse, suffering and yes, death. If you refuse to see the film, that is your choice. But please educate yourself on issues in our society related to companion animals and use some of that passion you feel for some real good. Speak out for what you believe in and make a difference for animals in your community and in our country. There are a lot of people who were outraged by what they saw who are working to save the lives of animals or improve those lives each and every day. Most of them receive no compensation for their efforts other than knowing they are making a difference. It's easy to boycott a film because you are upset. It's harder to put actions behind your values and do something which positively affects the lives of animals. Or saves those lives.
If nothing else, please just read the book.
(images courtesy of W. Bruce Cameron and A Dog's Purpose Movie website)
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson