Dog's Life: Humane
Training of dogs for movie under scrutiny
The movie “A Dog’s Purpose” is suffering what can only be called a PR disaster after footage has surfaced showing unacceptable treatment of one of the dogs during filming. In response to the treatment of the dog, many people have vowed to boycott the film, which will be released next week.
In the clip that is causing the controversy, a German Shepherd is being forced into turbulent water to film a scene in which the dog rescues a child from drowning. The dog is being physically pushed into the water despite clearly resisting, and even climbing back out using the side of the pool and the trainer as footholds. The dog looks panicked, and is making obvious efforts to avoid being tossed in the water, even clawing at the edge. You can hear someone say, “Don’t worry, it’s warm water at least,” and “He ain’t gonna calm down till he goes in the water” and “You just gotta throw him in,” all of which show complete disregard to the well-being of the dog, who is truly terrified. At one point, you hear someone say, “I think he wants to go in,” which is clearly wishful thinking. The next thing you hear is the more truthful, “He wants to get away! Just throw him in,” which is exactly what happens, to the chagrin of most viewers. Once he is in, he goes under, and it turns frantic on set. You can hear someone yelling, “Cut it, cut it!” and people are running towards the submerged dog.
The one bright spot in this clip is the boy in the water, who about halfway through is calling out cheerily, “Here boy, here boy” at which point the dog looks calmer and more relaxed than at any other point in the 60 seconds of footage. Additionally, it is this child who rushed first and fastest to the dog when he is submerged. I don’t see evidence that the filmmakers are concerned enough about the safety and feelings of the dog, but the child actor is, and I give him credit for that.
The American Humane Association (AHA) is responsible for the No Animals Were Harmed program, which is supposed to insure the well-being of animal actors on set. However, they have a history of ignoring poor treatment of animals during moviemaking. In response to this recent controversy, the AHA has suspended the safety representative who was on set that day and say they will investigate the incident.
The behavior of entering turbulent water in the chaotic situation associated with making a film needed to be approached step-by-step so that the dog was trained to do this ahead of filming. It would take a lot of work and a considerable amount of time to help almost any dog feel comfortable in this situation, and based on this clip, that investment was not made, and it is the dog who suffered. Another option if a dog is unable to handle the scene without distress would be to use a stunt double—a dog who is more comfortable with water.
What’s your take on the treatment of the dog during the filming of this scene?
A new film looks at a young man and a dog both in need of a place to call home.
In A Stray, Adan, a young, homeless Somali immigrant played by Barkhad Abdiarhman (Captain Phillips) is paired with a homeless dog. This compelling film, written and directed by Musa Syeed, is only his second narrative feature. Syeed, clearly influenced by the neo-realism of the great Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray, chose to center his story in a community of Muslim Somalians living in Minnesota’s Twin Cities.
In this society, Adan is on his own, unfocused and confused. Similar to many refugees, he tries to assimilate, although he’s not sure what that really means, as well as to stay in touch with his own culture and religion. Then, while on a job delivering food, he hits a stray dog, played with charming realism by Ayla, a Terrier mix.
The dog is uninjured, but then Adan, with no resources of his own, is burdened not only by a creature who needs to be cared for but also, one his religion considers unclean. Adan feels helpless in this situation, ill-equipped to know what’s best for himself or for the dog. Slowly, we see Adan growing into a kinder, more focused person, a change inspired, perhaps, by the incipient bond he forges with the dog and his efforts to do the right thing by her.
This film provides the viewer with insight into a social milieu with which most of us are entirely unfamiliar, that of refugees and their struggle to survive in American communities. Also, in a revelatory scene, into the Native American community; each group finds it difficult to understand the other’s “outsider” status. The film’s ending is influenced by a lesson an imam shares with Adan: A man was wandering in the desert and finally found water, but near the well, there was a thirsty dog. The man filled his shoe to give water to the dog before drinking some himself, and God granted the man heaven.
We spoke with the film’s writer/ director, Musa Syeed, and Ayla’s handler/ owner, Karen Radford, to find out more about what informs their work.
Bark: What inspired this film?
Musa Syeed: My wife found a stray dog shortly after we got married. We are both Muslim, and we were raised to believe that dogs are dirty—you can’t touch them and that kind of thing. Over the weeks we had the dog, I unexpectedly developed a relationship with her. She was a black Lab/ German Shepherd mix, and was such a happy puppy after my wife nursed her back to health. But we were moving to another state, so we decided to take her to the shelter. I had a connection with her, even though I had to give her up. I had this regret, and I started to look at this attitude toward dogs. It isn’t just a religious thing; there are lots of layers to it, and I wanted to make a film about that.
Bark: How did you come to incorporate the dog into the film, and as such an important character?
Musa: I wanted to write a story about a Muslim kid and a dog, like those typical classic American stories. We all grew up reading White Fang and those kinds of books, and I wanted to tell that story from a new perspective, reflecting the new America, in a way. I had that idea in the back of my mind. I also wanted to tell a story about the Minneapolis Somali community and the thematic connection between this community of refugees that’s trying to make a home for itself and a dog who also needs a home. For me, the interesting thing is how unlikely pairings such as these happen and how they find a way to connect, and to love each other in a way, despite the barriers between them. In this case, the question was, how can you love something you can’t touch? That was something I thought was an interesting challenge to show, and it is something that reflects this moment in America. There is a lot of division, and how we bridge it is what’s important to me.
Bark: How did you connect with Karen and her dog Ayla?
Musa: A local [Minneapolis] animal trainer, Debi Pool of Animal Talent Pool, has a catalog of 60 or 70 dogs, and she showed us pictures and some videos. I thought that when we did close-ups, people needed to see the dog’s eyes for that personal connection. Ayla has nice eyes, and her look was really great, her scruffy look; plus, she was the right size to fit into the bag!
Bark: Tell us more about Ayla.
Karen Radford: We adopted Ayla through Secondhand Hounds [Eden Prairie] about five years ago. She was found wandering in a ditch. We don’t know her exact mix, but we speculate Jack Russell and West Highland Terrier. True to her Terrier type, she’s excellent at hunting up vermin, and she still loves wandering in ditches. One of my hobbies is to train dogs for sports like agility and flyball. So although this is Ayla’s acting debut, she was very amenable to training.
Bark: Musa, could you tell us about directors or movies that have influenced your filmmaking?
Musa: There are neo-realism films that focus on a dog, especially Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D., about an older man and a dog, although in that story, he wanted to get rid of the dog so he could commit suicide. And then there was a 2008 American film, Wendy & Lucy, about a woman who has to give up a dog in order to save herself.
I was inspired by those films, but I think that oftentimes, it’s easy to be sentimental with dogs and to use them to manipulate audiences, to tug at their hearts. I deliberately didn’t push that too hard. In some films, the dog dies or goes through some brutality, and I also didn’t want this film to be about that. I know people will see that this film is about a refugee and a dog and think that something really devastating will happen, but it doesn’t go there. I wanted to tell a story that was more lighthearted and healing for the people watching it.
Bark: Even though we know little of the main characters’ backstories, they feel multidimensional. Was much of the filming off script, or improvised?
Musa: There was some of that. When I wrote the screenplay, there were certain things I thought were simple, things a dog would just do, like barking; I didn’t realize that it’s a skill that has to be trained. So a lot was understanding what we had to prepare Ayla for and, importantly, what she was up for doing. There was a scene where she was supposed to jump and run around and she didn’t feel like it at that moment, so we had to find a way to work around her. She can’t take direction from me. It was more about respecting where she was, and trying to shape scenes to where she wanted to be.
Bark: Karen, how did you go about training Ayla for more scripted scenes —for example, when she needed to jump into the bag?
Karen: We didn’t have much time between when we were selected and when we shot the film, so we worked on the basics. For the bag-jumping, she had breakfast in her bag every morning. I have another dog, and they would have a competition to see who got to be in the bag. We made that bag really rewarding. We practiced throwing a shirt over her, having different people pick her up, having her ride with someone in a wheelchair. The challenge was that we didn’t know what would happen from day to day, or where the scenes would be filmed, so we didn’t have a chance to visit beforehand. As Musa said, we just had to work with the challenge that dogs don’t generalize. Even if I had her do a behavior at home, that didn’t mean she would do it the same way in an apartment or in a park.
Bark: There’s a scene where Adan bathes Ayla in a bucket. Did you have to train specifically for that?
Karen: One of the challenges of that scene was that she wasn’t allowed to shake [the water coming off her is considered “unclean”]. I can’t take credit for actually teaching Ayla not to shake when wet. However, I taught her a rock solid “watch me,” which we used when she had to stand unattended in the bucket, and I taught Barkhad how to handle her when he was bathing her so she wouldn’t shake all over him. After the scene was done and Barkhad was out of range, Ayla was allowed to shake to her heart’s content.
Musa: Karen brought that bucket to the set. I have to commend her for being more than just the owner/ trainer. She helped with props and other things. It made the movie better —having someone on-set like that to collaborate was really great.
Bark: Tell us about the cultural divide over the concept of pet-keeping.
Musa: There are differences in opinion within Islamic law about the impurity of the dog, and that can often be exaggerated. It comes less from the religion itself than from cultural practices and not being exposed to dogs. Also, when immigrant families have to feed themselves, pet-keeping seems like a luxury. Besides religion, there’s a racial/cultural component. And then at the end, people have to realize that keeping the dog is harder for him than it is for other people, not just because of religion but also because of social and economic factors. So I hope that people see that there are layers to that choice, and appreciate it.
News: Guest Posts
Animals take center stage this holiday season
The upscale UK department store John Lewis has a history of emotional commercials that often feature animals. This year, animals once again take center stage, with Buster the Boxer (played by five-year old Biff) in the starring role.
Buster watches foxes, a squirrel, a badger, and a hedgehog bounce on the trampoline that was set up on Christmas Eve to surprise a little girl the next morning. He appears envious of the wildlife enjoying themselves while all he can do is watch through the window. When the back door is opened the next morning, the little girl runs joyfully toward her new gift, but Buster beats her to it. At last, he can have the bouncy fun he has been craving.
The advertisement cost a millions pounds to make, and the company will spend six million more airing the commercial. Naturally, they hope sales—including of the trampoline, the girl’s pajamas, books featuring woodland animals and plush versions of the animals in the ad—will make the commercial worth it.
For the socially conscious, it’s worth noting that this advertisement marks the first time that John Lewis has cast a black family. Additionally, the company will be donating a percentage of the money from all toy sales to Wildlife Trusts in the UK.
This is my favorite dog commercial so far this season. What’s yours?
News: Guest Posts
Francis the Poodle will be missed
Francis the Poodle and the woman known only as “Chef” entertained and informed over a million viewers on their YouTube show “Cooking With Dog”. The dog is an integral part of a show that has demonstrated how to make a variety of Japanese dishes as well as cuisine from other regions of the world since 2009.
The format of the show is that Chef cooks and Francis narrates. Chef speaks in Japanese, while Francis talks in English. The use of English by the dog was a conscious choice to enhance one goal of the show—introducing the cuisine of Japan to people elsewhere in the world. In addition to reaching many foreigners, the show has a large following in Japan.
Chef was chosen to be on the show due to her culinary skills, but there were two reasons that the creator/producer decided to include her Miniature Poodle as a co-star. 1) Chef had no background in television, and the creator/producer hoped that the presence of her dog would make her feel more relaxed, and 2) He hoped that Francis would increase the appeal of the show and make it stand out to viewers who have many options for cooking shows to watch.
Francis passed away last week at the age of 14 years and 9 months. He has many fans who, along with Chef, will miss him terribly.
I Shall Be Unleashed
While I’ve read that Dylan has owned many different dogs—everything from Beagles and Labs to St. Bernards and Great Danes (an eclectic bunch that seems to rival his varied musical styles)—his apparent affinity for them doesn’t stop at the end of the leash.
If you’ve listened to just a little Dylan, you’ve no doubt heard dogs running loose in his lyrics. But until recently I didn’t realize how prominent they really are. I first picked up on it while playing the album Infidels (one of my favorites) and found myself croon with Bob on a choice line from “Jokerman”: “Resting in the fields, far from the turbulent space/Half asleep near the stars with a small dog licking your face.” And after the words spilled out, I thought about it for a second. Hadn’t earlier that day, while listening to “Highlands” from Time Out of Mind, I heard him sing “I’m crossing the street to get away from a mangy dog/Talking to myself in a monologue”? And what about that line from the epic ballad “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” something about a white man who walked a black dog? Why hadn’t I picked up on this before?
Just thinking about it for a moment, I could come up with a handful of other tracks that had a hound prowling around: “Gates of Eden,” “Summer Days,” “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” So I dug a little deeper, played his music, and discovered that dogs, in some manner or another, play into more than 30 of his songs.
Now, maybe he doesn’t intend to do it, maybe the dog is just a symbol that’s occasionally freed from the stable of his mind, but they seem to inhabit his world, his thoughts, and, ultimately, they come to life in his music.
For instance, there’s a hound dog howling, appropriately, in the lament “Everything is Broken.” In “Seven Curses,” dogs are baying away during a dark moment of depravity. He conjures up a dog that talks in “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”
He even wrote a song called “If Dogs Run Free,” a wistful tune about freedom that proclaims “If dogs run free, then what must be/Must be, and that is all.” (see lyrics below)
Dylan uses dogs as a messenger for mood, as set for the stage. You can picture them wandering down dirt roads, or collapsed on creaky porches. They’re dustbowl dogs and prowling alley dogs, dogs with no collars, dogs with no homes.
It’s a hungry, lonesome quality about them that he touches upon, a sense of being, all at once, tired and restless. They speak to the human condition that surrounds them, suggesting what really doesn’t need to be said.
He also unleashes dogs symbolically. “I ain’t your dog that’s gone astray,” he quips in “Got My Mind Made Up.” In “Tell Me” he puts to a woman—rather testily it would seem—“What means more to you, a lap dog or a dead lion?” And in “Neighborhood Bully,” the masses of opposition “wait for this bully like a dog waits to feed.”
They seem to represent something a little more, well, primal in “Obviously Five Believers.” In it, his “dog” is just barking away and he says to an aloof lover, “Yes, I could tell you what he means, if I just didn't have to try so hard.” Taken in the context of the whole song—especially when it lands on this line—there’s a suggestion of needfulness, of longing, of the dog denoting his yelping lust.
Patti Smith, friend and colleague of Bob’s, reportedly had a dream about some dog of his and spun the dream into a poem, “Dylan’s Dog,” something she’s been known to recite in concert. The version I found goes: “have you seen/Dylan’s dog/it got wings/it can fly/when it lands/like a clown/he’s the only/thing allowed/to look Dylan in the eye.” The poem, conceived by someone who knows him, certainly suggests a fondness that Bob has for dogs. An uncommon fondness. And, yeah, if anyone would have a winged dog, it would be Dylan.
Dogs seem to be a prevalent device in Dylan’s portrait of the world, helping define a place where it’s not always easy to find the right home. Or, perhaps, that it’s just better to roam.
Bob Dylan’s Nod to Dogs
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
All Over You
Cat’s in the Well
Changing of the Guards
Everything is Broken
Gates of Eden
Got My Mind Made Up
I Shall Be Free No. 10
If Dogs Run Free
Meet me in the Morning
My Back Pages
Obviously Five Believers
One Too Many Mornings
Only A Pawn in Their Game
Romance in Durango
Sitting on a Barbed Wire Fence
Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues
Tell Me, Momma
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Canine Synchronized Swimming Commercial
The Rio Olympics inspired a Farmer’s Insurance commercial featuring dogs enjoying a flooded home. The five dogs play in the water and perform a synchronized swimming routine.
In a related ad, the same water-filled home serves as the venue for a dog diving competition.
Seeing these commercials provides some compensation for the misery that comes from staying up way too late watching the Olympics every night!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Real dogs just as funny as movie versions
I was quick to roll my eyes and grumble that the makers of the film “The Secret Life of Pets” went for cheap laughs over more believable depictions of our pets. I had to eat my words, though, when I saw this ad showing dogs acting just like their movie counterparts. Some crazy things that I’ve never see in the real world include a dog turning on the music and then rocking out to it, and a Dachshund taking advantage of electric beaters to get a back massage.
In what way does your dog act like the dogs in the clip?
Today, actor David Duchovny (The X-Files, Aquarius) launches the “Lick My Face” campaign to support the nonprofit organization, Target Zero. In a new online video, Duchovny’s rescue canine, Brick, devours the actor in licks—whereby for every lick, Duchovny offers to donate at least one dollar to the zero-kill cause (to boost the lick count, peanut butter is applied). Duchovny challenges all of his social media followers, as well as fellow celebrities, ex-wife Tea Leoni and X-Files co-star, Gillian Anderson, to do the same. It’s a playful take on the hugely successive viral Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon that benefitted ALS a few summers ago.
All silliness aside, Duchovny is committed to zero-kill and helping shelters meet the challenge. He is an active board member of the Target Zero non-profit and a longtime shelter advocate. “Target Zero is showing a clear path to end the euthanasia of adoptable shelter animals through its proven-to-work mentorship model. We’re currently in ten Fellow Cities, but I’d like us to be in 20, 30, 40 more as quickly as possible to keep saving more and more lives. My hope is this campaign will get the word out far and wide that we're here to help,” enthuses Duchovny.
Co-Founded by social entrepreneur and goodwill activist Tracey Durning, Target Zero provides comprehensive strategies to decrease shelter intake and increase live release rates to achieve the 90+% shelter save rate. Launched in 2013, Target Zero has already gotten two cities to zero; Waco, Texas and Huntsville, Alabama, with Brevard County, Florida set to get there by October 2016. The organization currently works in ten Fellow Cities. “No kill” is defined as 90% or more of cats and dogs getting out of a city’s shelters safely. 10% or less is accounted for by animals that will die from illness regardless of medical treatment and/or large dogs with nonrehabilitative aggression issues.
Visit lickmyface.org to get involved. The challenge is simple and easy, plus fun for the licked and lickee!
Lick My Face Guidelines
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs always rule!
Well, the Super Bowl was nearly ruined for me this year. No, I’m not a Carolina Panthers fan, so the fact that they lost is not my issue (although I do feel for them.) The real problem is that there were no Budweiser puppies this year in the commercials. Those ads are always my favorites, and I missed them.
Perhaps I should consider myself lucky, though, because there were some dog commercials that I really loved. I think my favorite was the one featuring Dachshunds. The “Wiener Stampede” shows dogs dressed in hot dog costumes running towards Heinz condiments as we hear the lyric, “I can’t live if living is without you.”
I know it has been criticized for implying that we are going to eat dogs, but I didn’t take it that way. I loved seeing the dogs running, especially because they looked so healthy and energetic. The puppy was beyond adorable, and when one of the dogs runs by looking straight at us, it’s hard to resist. The reunion with the people and the dogs showed real love and joy. In other words, this commercial had a lot of what I look for in canine Super Bowl ads.
I also liked the commercial with dogs trying to outsmart the manager at a grocery store to get themselves some Doritos in “Doritos Dogs.” Though the dogs were tongue flicking and seemed a little anxious, which was unfortunate, I did like the theme of very different dogs working as a team to accomplish their goal.
I’m including in my canine commercial picks Honda’s ad, “A New Truck to Love” even though the sheep are arguably the true stars, singing Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” Since the Border Collie makes several appearances and does some great voice work, I still consider it a dog commercial, and a charming one at that.
Did you have a favorite canine Super Bowl commercial this year, even without an appearance by the Budweiser puppies?
Irresistibly amusing portraits of wet dogs
On our cover is Coffee Bean, whose portrait was taken by Sophie Gamand, a photographer who sees dogs differently. For an example of Gamand’s unique viewpoint, consider her series Flower Power: Pit Bulls of the Revolution. Her pictures of smiling, solemn and saucy Pit Bulls, their heads adorned with colorful crowns of flowers, suggest that we reconsider what we think we know about these sturdy dogs. An award-winning French photographer who has become well known as an animal advocate in her adopted hometown of New York City, Gamand will be celebrating the release of her first book, Wet Dog, this fall. Recently, she shared some of her observations and experiences with us.
BARK: Are dog-rescue groups active in France?
Gamand: Absolutely. Abandonment is somewhat less of an issue there than it is in the U.S., though. I once calculated that the ratio in France is about one dog per 660 inhabitants will be abandoned each year, whereas in the U.S., it’s one dog per 82 inhabitants. Thanks to my Wet Dog book, I was able to help the SPA (Société Protectrice des Animaux), the largest and oldest animal welfare and rescue organization in France. They fell in love with my wet dog photos and asked if they could use them for their nationwide adoption campaign this October. I was so proud to be able to help animals in my home country! (I even photographed wet cats for them, which was quite an experience!) The campaign ran in France, in the Paris subway stations and in SPA’s 60 shelters. I was told by their team that their adoption event was hugely successful, thanks in part to the campaign, which touched thousands and thousands of hearts.
In Wet Dog, you write that one of first things that happens to a dog at a shelter is a bath, and that marks the beginning of the dog’s new life. Is this why you decided to do the wonderful Wet Dog book?
My “Wet Dog” series was born out of a happy accident. I was at a groomer’s, working on a personal project about grooming and the hair-cutting process. Then the groomer started bathing the dogs, and I could not take my eyes off them! I’m not sure why I felt that intense connection with wet dogs. They make me laugh, but most importantly, they make me feel guilt, compassion and immense empathy.
Suddenly it hit me. That was exactly how I felt when bathing rescue dogs. It was interesting to explore those memories and feelings, and to realize how important bathing had been for me and for my relationship to rescues. I really believe that for the dogs, the bath is an initiation process, almost a form of baptism. They enter a new life, the abuse and the neglect and the suffering they experienced are washed away, and they become new. It’s a poignant and beautiful moment to share with a rescue.
You have volunteered a great deal of time taking portraits of shelter dogs. How important do you feel it is that their personalities are captured through good photography—does it make them more adoptable?
It is absolutely essential! Good photography helps in so many ways: It gives more exposure to the dogs on social media, and by extension, it gives more exposure to the shelters as well. It also brings more adopters to the shelters and creates more connections between people and shelter dogs.
I want my photos to be amazing, beautiful, exciting, fun, touching. I want people to see beyond the “shelter dog” aspect. I want them to witness the personality and uniqueness of these dogs. The photos, like the baths, are also a rite of passage. I want to give the dogs their dignity back. My photographs have been responsible for many direct and indirect adoptions— for people falling in love with a particular dog, or feeling more confident about getting a shelter dog. The photos remind us that these dogs could be our best friends. Their happy faces are so inviting.
How did you come to work with the Sato Project, and why do you say it was life-changing for you?
I met Chrissy Beckles, the project’s founder, in 2011. At the time, I was looking into volunteering with a shelter or a rescue group, but found many closed doors. Chrissy welcomed me and let me do my thing. Over the course of two years, I traveled extensively with her, documenting her work in Puerto Rico—specifically on Dead Dog Beach, an infamous dumping ground.
The work I did with the Sato Project profoundly changed me, personally, professionally and artistically. The first time I stepped foot on the island, Chrissy and I picked up a dying dog. He was beautiful and heartbreaking and in such a horrible shape. He died in Chrissy’s arms, and I was there with my camera, taking the photos and videos that would help Chrissy spread the message about her important work.
I called the dog Angel, and I captured his last breath with my camera. I still remember the way he looked at me; for a split second, I thought he was smiling, and then he expired. He was loved so much during the last few seconds of his life. This horrible experience bonded me with Chrissy and her organization in ways I can’t explain. It also bonded me with rescues and shelter dogs across the world. In many ways, we created dogs, and we are responsible for them. Teaching compassion toward all beings is such an important part of our humanity.
What do you hope people come away with from your Wet Dog book?
Wet Dog is meant to be a fun book. I want to celebrate the unique relationship we have with our dogs. I also hope to use it to spread simple messages, such as #AdoptDontShop, which is dear to my heart. People need to stop buying puppies in stores or off the Internet. One out of three of these puppies will end up in a shelter within their first year.
I also want to encourage people to look at shelters and help in small ways. For example, did you know that shelters are always in dire need of gently used towels and linens? It’s a great way to help, and to make shelter dogs’ lives a little more comfortable while they wait for their forever homes. Bathe your doggie, then wash the towels and donate them to your local shelter! Wet dogs uniting for shelter dogs: I like that idea.
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