LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have called for a boycott of Universal's upcoming movie "A Dog's Purpose" in the wake of the release of video showing a dog being forced into churning water on the set.
"PETA is calling on dog lovers to boycott the film in order to send the message that dogs and other animals should be treated humanely, not as movie props," the group said.
The call for the boycott came on Wednesday, when TMZ released a leaked video from November, 2015, footage of a German Shepherd being forced into turbulent water during the making of the film.
Amblin Partners and Universal Pictures issued a statement saying that the dog in the video, named Hercules, had been rehearsed for the water scenes but balked on the day of the shooting so the production team did not proceed. The companies said they were reviewing the footage.
"'A Dog's Purpose,' produced by Amblin Entertainment and distributed by Universal Pictures, is a celebration of the special connection between humans and their dogs," the companies said. "And in the spirit of this relationship, the Amblin production team followed rigorous protocols to foster an ethical and safe environment for the animals."
"While we continue to review the circumstances shown in the edited footage, Amblin is confident that great care and concern was shown for the German Shepherd Hercules, as well as for all of the other dogs featured throughout the production of the film. There were several days of rehearsal of the water scenes to ensure Hercules was comfortable with all of the stunts. On the day of the shoot, ?Hercules did not want to perform the stunt portrayed on the tape so the Amblin production team did not proceed with filming that shot."
"Hercules is happy and healthy," the statement concluded.
Gavin Polone, a producer on the film, told Variety that he was frustrated by the situation on several fronts -- the fact that the video remained under wraps for more than a year and the inability of the American Humane monitoring group to properly supervise the set to prevent abuse. He noted that he had been on the set about 70% of the time.
"Had I been on the set, this would have never happened," he said. "This movie got made because of how I feel about animals. So this happened 15 months ago and should have been investigated immediately. It's unconscionable that someone waited a year and three months to call attention to this."
"A Dog's Purpose" is directed by Lasse Hallstrom and based on W. Bruce Cameron's 2010 novel about a dog who learns his purpose as he is reincarnated into several dogs over the course of several lifetimes. It is slated to be released Jan. 27.
Hallstrom released a statement Wednesday: "I am very disturbed by the video released today from the set of my film 'A Dog's Purpose.' I did not witness these actions, which are unacceptable and would never happen with my knowledge. We were all committed to providing a loving, respectful and safe environment for all the animals in the film. I have been promised that a thorough investigation into this situation is underway and that any wrongdoing will be reported and punished."
Josh Gad, who supplies the voice of the dog, tweeted a response expressing his sorrow for how the dog appears to be treated.
PETA also said that the dogs used to film "A Dog's Purpose" were provided by Birds & Animals Unlimited. The group complained to the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently about BAU, alleging that PETA's investigation showed that the animals were denied veterinary care, forced to sleep outdoors in the cold and living in unsanitary conditions.