Humane Society under fire for fudging 'No Animals were Harmed...' pledge on films

A detailed investigation by The Hollywood Reporter reveals the hypocrisy of the Humane Society whose disclaimer on almost every Hollywood film - "No animals were harmed in the production of this film" - is shown to be empty of meaning.

During filming for the blockbuster "Life of Pi," about a tiger who shares a lifeboat with a young boy, the big cat reportedly almost drowned in a water tank. The incident was related by the AHA rep working the film who wrote in an email,

"I think this goes without saying but DON'T MENTION IT TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THE OFFICE!" Johnson continued in the email, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. "I have downplayed the f-- out of it."

The American Humane Society website boasts of its industry standard:

You've probably seen our "No Animals Were Harmed"® disclaimer at the end of movies. But did you know that American Humane Association's Los Angeles-based Film & TV Unit is the film and television industry's only officially-sanctioned animal monitoring program?

With established filmmaking guidelines, detailed production reviews, certified safety reps and more, we help keep the cameras rolling and the animals safe.

Is that true? Not exactly:

A year later, during the filming of another blockbuster, Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 27 animals reportedly perished, including sheep and goats that died from dehydration and exhaustion or from drowning in water-filled gullies, during a hiatus in filming at an unmonitored New Zealand farm where they were being housed and trained. A trainer, John Smythe, tells THR that AHA's management, which assigned a representative to the production, resisted investigating when he brought the issue to its attention in August 2012. First, according to an email Smythe shared with THR, an AHA official told him the lack of physical evidence would make it difficult to investigate. When he replied that he had buried the animals himself and knew their location, the official then told him that because the deaths had taken place during the hiatus, the AHA had no jurisdiction. The AHA eventually bestowed a carefully worded credit that noted it "monitored all of the significant animal action. No animals were harmed during such action."

A THR investigation has found that, unbeknownst to the public, these incidents on Hollywood's most prominent productions are but two of the troubling cases of animal injury and death that directly call into question the 136-year-old Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit's assertion that "No Animals Were Harmed" on productions it monitors. Alarmingly, it turns out that audiences reassured by the organization's famous disclaimer should not necessarily assume it is true. In fact, the AHA has awarded its "No Animals Were Harmed" credit to films and TV shows on which animals were injured during production. It justifies this on the grounds that the animals weren't intentionally harmed or the incidents occurred while cameras weren't rolling.

In the bad old days, horses were routinely sacrified as stunt riders would deliberately force the animal to fall during battles. Broken legs were common. Sometimes, they would use ropes strung along the ground to deliberately trip horses causing more serious injuries.

That was supposed to have been stopped by the AHA. But was it?

A Husky dog was punched repeatedly in its diaphragm on Disney's 2006 Antarctic sledding movie Eight Below, starring Paul Walker, and a chipmunk was fatally squashed in Paramount's 2006 Matthew McConaughey-Sarah Jessica Parker romantic comedy Failure to Launch. In 2003, the AHA chose not to publicly speak of the dozens of dead fish and squid that washed up on shore over four days during the filming of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Crewmembers had taken no precautions to protect marine life when they set off special-effects explosions in the ocean, according to the AHA rep on set.

And the list goes on: An elderly giraffe died on Sony's 2011 Zookeeper set and dogs suffering from bloat and cancer died during the production of New Regency's Marmaduke and The Weinstein Co.'s Our Idiot Brother, respectively (an AHA spokesman confirms the dogs had bloat and says the cancer "was not work-related"). In March, a 5-foot-long shark died after being placed in a small inflatable pool during a Kmart commercial shoot in Van Nuys.

All of these productions had AHA monitors on set.

The report points out that the AHA has gone from being a crusading outside organization to being an entrenched part of the business. The coveted "No animals were harmed" designation is now just another aspect of the movie business and has very little practical meaning.

Perhaps this report will change things for the better.

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