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It’s all good, American Humane CEO says

Suddenly, it seems, that video of a dog being coerced into a pool during the filming of “A Dog’s Purpose” is not so “disturbing” at all.

When the video was first leaked, by TMZ, even the makers of the movie — all avoiding any responsibility for what might have happened — all said at least some aspects of it appeared disturbing.

But in the week leading up to the film’s release, the reassurances that nothing bad happened have poured out — from the author of the popular book of the same name, from the star of the movie, Dennis Quaid, from its producer, even from Ellen Degeneres.

And now even the CEO of the non-profit organization that is supposedly “investigating” the incident(s) seems to be saying — before the investigation is even concluded — that nothing inappropriate happened.

Dr. Robin Ganzert, CEO of the American Humane Association — the agency that monitors the safety of animals in movie productions — said in a piece written for Variety that the leaked video was “misleading” and “edited” and reflects no wrongdoing on anyone’s part.

“The beautiful story opens at the box office this weekend mired in controversy stemming from the release of an edited video manipulated in an effort to mischaracterize the behind-the-scenes treatment of the film’s four-legged stars,” she wrote.

The film’s official release date is today.

The viral video has provoked a call for a boycott of the movie by PETA, and some conflicting feelings even among dog lovers — both those who insist the German shepherd, named Hercules, is being mistreated, and those who say the edited video is not to be trusted.

The video shows the dog being nudged and coerced to get into a churning pool of water. He had performed the stunt gladly in rehearsals, but the location of where he was entering the pool had been changed on the day of filming.

He clearly resists getting in, and struggles to get out during the first 45 seconds of the video. Another piece of video was edited onto that, showing the dog, on a different day, swimming in the pool before going underwater, at which point someone yells “cut it” and the dog is helped out of the pool.

To restate our take on all this: That second snippet of video is too short, out of context and blurry to draw any conclusions from. The first 45 seconds, in our view, shows a dog being pushed more than a dog performing a stunt in a movie should be pushed. The stunt was called off that day, but not soon enough.

Is that a crime? No. Should it result in the movie being boycotted? We vote no, but that’s up to you. Should there be repercussions — say a warning, or a fine? Probably, but the agency that would impose that appears to have already made up its mind.

Should the makers of the movie, somewhere along the line, admit to an iota of responsibility for what was a small mistake on the set of the movie they were making? Should they make some amends, maybe offering a percentage of opening week receipts to dog-related charities (likely not PETA)?

Well, that would be classy — a whole lot classier than circling the wagons, denying responsibility, and launching a public relations effort to rescue, not a dog, but their movie.

Yesterday, Dennis Quaid defended the movie on The Today Show, and then did the same on Ellen.

Meanwhile, in her piece for Variety, Ganzert acknowledged that the dog “appeared to show signs of resistance” to getting in the water. The rest of the piece is a defense of the movie, a diatribe against PETA and more questioning of why the video was leaked a year and a half after it was taken.

But what about those 45 seconds?

“People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) swiftly called for a boycott of the film, and has since continued to exploit — and further sensationalize — the controversy as an opportunity to argue that the animal actors who enchant and educate audiences don’t belong on the Silver Screen,” Ganzert continued.

But what about those 45 seconds?

“A full spectrum of rigorous safety measures was in place to protect the dog throughout this particular scene,” she added. “In addition to one of American Humane’s Certified Animal Safety Representatives, five individuals –including scuba divers and animal handlers — were present on the set at the time to ensure the safety of the dog.”

But what about those 45 seconds?

Here is what I would like to hear from the AHA — were the methods used trying to get Hercules in the water during those 45 seconds acceptable to them? Was the level of stress the dog was allowed to reach acceptable? Should a dog be allowed to get stressed at all during the filming of a movie stunt?

AHA suspended the monitor it had assigned to the film pending the results of the “third-party” investigation it says has been launched.

But with the publication of his Variety article, it’s pretty clear what Ganzert and the AHA want that “ongoing” investigation to find.

Dog’s can’t talk. Dogs don’t have a union. If the American Humane Association has appointed itself as their guardian in Hollywood — and is soliciting our donations to carry out that mission — we’d like to think it is objective, vigilant and doesn’t give a hot damn about the profit margins of movie makers.

In that respect, Ganzert’s article, on the eve of the movie’s release, is not too reassuring.

As for the movie’s makers, we’d like to think that your production treated dogs in a manner as sweet as your movie’s message and that, if you didn’t, even in small way that has been blown out of proportion, you are at least a little bit sorry it.

Homeless man in Paris gets his dog back

Amid a police investigation and a public outcry, animal rights activists have returned the puppy they seized from a homeless man in Paris last month, according to news reports.

Activists from Cause Animale Nord, an animal rights group based in Lille in northern France, snatched the puppy in September from a homeless man on a street in central Paris. Members later said the homeless man had drugged the dog and was using it to assist him in begging.

The incident was caught on camera and, since being posted on Facebook and elsewhere, it has been viewed more than 1.7 million times.

parisA petition on the website Change.org calling for an investigation into Cause Animale Nord’s actions has been signed by nearly 250,000 people.

A police inquiry was launched a on September 25, according to The Telegraph.

The president of Cause Animale Nord — seen taking the dog on the video — was brought in for questioning, but released after promising to return the dog to its owner.

The group had placed the dog in foster care, and was offering it for adoption for a fee of €175.

French animal rights group wrestles puppy away from a homeless man in Paris

A French animal rights group is being criticized after a video surfaced of its president and at least two cohorts taking a puppy away from a homeless man in Paris.

The French newspaper La Voix du Nord identified the man in the video who took the dog as Cause Animale Nord president Anthony Blanchard.

He and another activist from the Lille-based group can be seen wrestling the man and taking his dog away.

parisThe homeless man can be seen chasing after them, trying to to get the yelping dog back. Blanchard hands the dog off to what appears to be a third accomplice, who runs away with it.

More than 225,000 people have signed a petition to launch an investigation into the group’s action and have the dog returned to its owner.

Blanchard wrote in a post on Cause Animale Nord’s Facebook page that the dog was not being properly cared for and that it had been drugged by the man to stay calm.

He said there were signs the dog was being mistreated, including dilated pupils and abnormal crying, though in the video the only crying the dog does is after it is seized by Blanchard.

Blanchard says the snippet of video unfairly paints the group in a negative light.

We’d say he managed to do that all by himself.

(Photo of the seized dog from Cause Animale Nord’s Facebook page)

Rescue group signs contract on Vick house

A Pennsylvania-based dog rescue organization and advocacy group has reportedly signed a contract to buy the former estate of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick — headquarters of Bad Newz Kennels, a dogfighting operation.

The group, Dogs Deserve Better, says it hopes to turn the 4,600-square foot house and 15 acres of property in Surry into an animal sanctuary, where rescued dogs could be trained and rehabilitated.

The organization, which has been at the forefront of the movement towards banning the tethering and chaining of dogs,  has 45 days to raise enough money to cover the asking price of $595,000, according to the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk.

Monica Severy, the group’s local representative, said it has raised more than $50,000.

“The dogs will live in the house, and we’ll use it for training and for meetings,” Severy said. “There will be somebody there all the time, living there.”

The house has been empty for three years. When  Ace and I visited in August, the sign posted out front listed it as both for sale and for rent.

The white brick home has five bedrooms, four and a half baths, a pool and a basketball court.

Severy said the group chose the property for the symbolism of turning a place where dogs were made to suffer into a place of refuge for similar dogs. Fifty one dogs were seized from Bad Newz Kennels, and investigators discovered eight murdered dogs on the property once owned by Vick, who this past weekend was given the key to the city by Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway.

261 dogs seized from rescue organization

More than 250 dogs were confiscated from a rescue organization in Polk City, Florida, and its operators were arrested.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office says 261 dogs were seized from Mid-Florida Retriever Rescue. Diane and Charles “Chuck” O’Malley were charged with more than 200 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty and are being held at Polk County Jail.

The sheriff’s office received a tip at around 3 p.m. Wednesday that about 100 dogs were being mistreated at the O’Malley home, said Carrie Eleazer, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman.

Animal control officers went to the home Wednesday night and asked to see the dogs. The couple wouldn’t allow animal control staff into the home, but brought out one dog at a time to be inspected, Tampa Bay Online reported.

The couple showed 117 dogs to authorities, but by then it was midnight and they said they would not show any more, officials said.

The sheriff’s office obtained a search warrant and returned to the home at around 2 a.m. Thursday, confiscating all 261 dogs that were at the home — 35 of them puppies. The dogs were mostly Labradors and Labrador mixes.

Sheriff’s officials said many of the dogs were malnourished and had fleas, parasites and tartar build up on their teeth.

“It was deplorable living conditions, even for humans,” Eleazer said.

The Facebook page for Mid-Florida Retriever Rescue said the nonprofit, founded in 2005, is dedicated to placing “Labrador retrievers and other working dogs in loving permanent homes.”

Bark and Wine is this weekend

dogwine-224x300Attention wine-drinking dog owners: There’s an opportunity to enjoy sampling wines with your dog at your side this weekend — and to support a good cause in the process.

The fourth annual Bark and Wine event is Saturday (May 1) from noon to 4 p.m. at the Fiore Winery in Pylesville.

The event, which features wine, dog treats, music and raffles, is being held by Best Friends Fur Ever to raise funds for Fallston Animal Rescue Movement (FARM).

Best Friends, a dog daycare and overnight resort, is part of the foster network for FARM, an organization that has found homes for 8,000 animals.

Tickets are $10 per person, with an additional $5 fee for the wine tasting. For $5 dollars more, you can ride the bus from Best Friends (1009 Philadelphia Rd. in Joppa) to the event with your dog.

If you’re interested, RSVP to Best Friends at 410-671-7529 by April 28th.

(Photo: Painting by Amy Reges, a former wildlife biologist and current Lab lover and artist whose Otter Tail Art studio is located in Burdett, New York.)

Through a Dog’s Eyes

As the founder of one of the country’s largest service dog organizations, Jennifer Arnold has spent the last 20 years breeding, training and matching service dogs for people with disabilities or special needs.

Now she has documented that mission, which began when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 16, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“I remember not wanting to leave the house,” she said. “I felt very awkward, scared. It surprised me how frightened I was to be left alone. You feel so vulnerable.”

throughdogseyesArnold’s book, “Through a Dog’s Eyes,” comes out in September. A PBS documentary based on the book and narrated by Neil Patrick Harris debuts April 21.

Arnold and her family decided to set up their own service dog training school when, as a teenager, she was diagnosed and found herself in a wheelchair. She applied, but was so far down the list that the family began making plans for their own service dog academy.

Three weeks later, though, her father, a surgeon,was hit and killed by a drunken motorcycle driver. Arnold and her mother spent the next 10 years raising funds, and incorporated on Dec. 31, 1991. They started training their first dog the next year. Canine Assistants is now among the largest service dog providers in the country.

“Through a Dog’s Eyes” looks at Arnold’s treat-based teaching methods, five of the people to which the organization has provided dogs and how the dogs have helped them regain independence.

One of them is Bryson Casey, 30, of Kansas City, Mo., who served in Iraq as a captain with the National Guard. He came home and was in a car crash that left him a quadriplegic. He and his dog Wagner bonded instantly.

Arnold is now 46, her disease is in remission and she is married to the academy’s staff veterinarian.

In the last 20 years, Canine Assistants has given away 1,000 dogs; there is a waiting list of nearly 2,000. The organization does not charge for the dogs, and will pay for food and vet bills for the life of the dogs, if needed. The recipients are asked to do community service in return.

Canine Assistants breeds its own dogs, and trains rescue and shelter dogs. There are 150 dogs in training year-round. About 5 percent fail to make the program and are placed as pets.

It costs about $22,000 to train a service dog, Arnold said.

The book can be pre-ordered from Random House.