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Safety On the Set
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The American Humane safety representatives are a rare breed, people who greet their callings with seriousness, skill and devotion to all things furred and feathered. Not only must they undergo specialized training that prepares them to understand the needs and behaviors of canines and ferrets and parrots and apes and cows and beyond (many representatives have veterinary medicine, zoo or shelter work in their background), but they must also have the personal grit and fortitude to make what might be an unpopular or difficult determination for the sake of an animal’s well-being. Because, while caricatures of directors and film people tend to be off-base— there are no megaphone-waving megalomaniacs in the industry (or very few)—when the light is fading and hundreds of people are waiting to get a shot, the intensity on a set can be, well, intense. But if it looks like a screeching truck might come too close to a cat, or if a dog leaping through a window might injure herself, the representative must make the critical call.

That said, injuries do occur on occasion. “We live in the real world—accidents happen, even with the best of intentions,” observes Bouman. But she describes such incidents as “very rare” and says that, after investigation, even if it proves to be a true accident, a different end credit must be given—in short,“No Animals Were Harmed” will not roll at the end of the film.However, if the abuse or neglect is not accidental, that’s a different hive of bees altogether. American Humane has no qualms about immediately stepping in, removing the animal and shutting down the scene.

Sets visited by American Humane reps can be on a Tinseltown studio lot or on some faraway isle. “We go all over the world,” Bouman says, noting that there are 11 full-time representatives in Los Angeles and a few dozen part-timers stationed around the country and the globe. “In the U.S., when you shoot under the Screen Actors Guild agreement, our services are free, which is great, because any production that wants us there doesn’t have to worry about getting us into the budget. However, when you film overseas, as many large productions are wont to do, we have to charge a small fee.” It should be noted that American Humane oversight is mandatory in the Screen Actors Guild contract; a production under that contract must inform American Humane when an animal is going to be used in a scene. While on occasion, American Humane cannot be present— for instance, if more films are being shot than they have representatives to cover on a particular day or week—the organization considers where their team is needed most (for example, a film using elephants and bears versus a television show in which the dog’s only job is to sleep on a couch).

Finding money for an animal-safety rep is not an ordeal for most films; rather, it is one of the most important things the producers do when they are shooting outside the U.S. and know an animal actor will be in their film.“Most productions are very aware of the benefits of having an American Humane rep on set,” observes Bouman.“Not only are their animals going to be taken care of under the strictest guidelines—I mean, our guidelines are serious—but we are also extremely collaborative.”

At the end of the day, an animal in a film is not just part of the scenery or background; he or she is an employee, hired to do a job, and protections must be extended. Cheering on the feisty mutt as he dashes in front of the train is much more fun when you know that he returned to his snug little bed after filming wrapped.Whether he develops a big head from so much on-set attention and adoration is another matter entirely.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 57: Nov/Dec 2009
Alysia Gray Painter author of Howl and McSweeney's More Mirth of a Nation contributor, and The Bark's Southern California correspondentówas nominated for an Emmy.

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