Marin animal welfare advocates have joined a national chorus condemning a group entrusted to protect animals in Hollywood that according to a bombshell report has ostensibly become an industry lapdog masquerading as a watchdog group.
The American Humane Association, which states on its website that "we are making a difference every day to improve the lives of pets, working animals and farm animals," has for 134 years been providing moviegoers with a comfort level branded in a “No Animals Were Harmed” seal that appears in the closing credits of productions it monitors.
But the AHA's efforts have been woefully inadequate at best and unscrupulous at worst according to a recent Hollywood Reporter expose that's rocked the entertainment industry and riled animal rights groups worldwide.
The THR report paints a troublesome picture of how incidents in which animals were harmed were swept under the rug, and the unseemly relationship between the AHA and the industry it's pledged to monitor.
An internal email leaked to THR from an AHA monitor describes how the group handled the near drowning of a Bengal tiger ("King") used in the filming of "Life of Pi."
The heartwarming 2012 blockbuster carried an AHA accreditation. It went on to win four Academy Awards and rake in $609 million in box office receipts.
“LAST WEEK WE ALMOST F—ING KILLED KING IN THE WATER TANK,” the monitor said.
“This one take with him just went really bad and he got lost trying to swim to the side... I think this goes without saying but DON’T MENTION IT TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THE OFFICE.
“I have downplayed the f— out of it.”
The "Life of Pi" debacle isn't an isolated case, according to the report, which describes a pattern of horrific incidents involving animals in productions monitored by the AHA that includes a Husky dog getting punched repeatedly in its diaphragm during the production of Disney’s 2006 "Eight Below", and a chipmunk was squashed to death in the filming of Paramount’s 2006 Matthew McConaughey-Sarah Jessica Parker romantic comedy, "Failure to Launch."
A spokesman for Twentieth Century Fox, which produced “Life of Pi,” denies the monitor’s characterization in the email, telling THR “The tiger, King, was never harmed and did not ‘nearly drown’ during the production.”
“We take on-set safety very seriously and take every precaution necessary to ensure that no one — animal or human — is harmed during the production of our films.”
Melanie Piazza, the director of San Rafael's Wildcare called the THR revelations "disheartening."
“These humane labels can offer a false sense of security to the majority of the public who simply trust the label and don’t do any research into what the rating system really measures and who is providing it," she said.
"It’s frustrating that corporations are abusing the public’s trust as well as the animals in the name of profits. When referring to a group that you trust to be the humane leader, it’s even more disheartening."
Jack Carone, a spokesman for In Defense of Animals, an international group that has a San Rafael office said "if (the accreditation) ever had any meaning, it doesn't anymore,"
Carone said the THR report came as no big surprise to animal advocacy groups who know Hollywood offers few happy endings for the animals it employs.
Carone lives in West Hollywood.
"To people who didn't know, that don't think about this ever day, they really had this comfort feeling, like there was somebody there in the interests of the animals, but now we know that (the AHA) are serving the industry and not the animals.
"That seal has to mean something, and right now it's just an illusion of protection. (Animals) shouldn't get mistreated with approval. The goal should be no mistreatment, and if something goes wrong (the industry) needs to be held accountable."
Carone believes the AHA, which is industry-funded, is in a compromised position that's made monitoring the industry independently impossible. He's calling for a new monitoring group to accredit animal protection in Hollywood.
"When that stops them from executing their mission, something has to change," he said.