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No Animals Were Harmed During the Making of This Film

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In the movie industry, every precaution is taken to ensure that animals used in films are safe and do not get hurt. Even when dogs, cats or more wild animals are seen doing stunts, their safety is the main concern of television and filmmakers who do everything to prevent animals from receiving injuries on set.

You're sitting in a movie theater watching the latest Batman flick, "The Dark Knight.'' There's a scene in a parking garage where Batman fights off an assault by gangsters and dogs. The Joker uses a pipe to beat on the dogs attacking Batman. Batman picks up a dog and hurls it away; a dog lunges at a man, and the pack bites his hands and feet as they drag his body off. It all looks so real.

At the end of the movie, as the screen credits roll, you see the familiar and reassuring, "No animals were harmed during the making of this film.''

And you wonder, "How is that possible? How do they do that?''

Protecting the welfare of animals

The Film and Television Unit of the American Humane Association (AHA) was founded in 1940 in response to a scene in the 1939 movie "Jesse James,'' in which a blindfolded horse was forced to leap to its death. Since then, the AHA has monitored the proper care and safety of animals during film and television productions, and is the only organization designated by the Screen Actors Guild to have on-set jurisdiction.

The 80-page book "Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media'' covers everything from ants to elephants and is constantly being updated. Certified Animal Safety Representatives travel around the world to protect animal actors. They have unlimited access to the set during animal scenes, and they work cooperatively with film makers to review scripts and story boards, observe rehearsals, and rate finished films -- everything from "monitored: unacceptable'' to "monitored: outstanding.'' "Not monitored'' means the AHA doesn't know if animals were harmed or not because representatives weren't present during filming.

AHA clout

One power the AHA has in gaining industry cooperation is that films considered "unacceptable'' have difficulty getting distributed both in the United States and Europe. Not having the AHA trademarked disclaimer, "No Animals Were Harmed''® is a red flag regarding compliance with cruelty and treatment standards.

Other compliance pressure comes from the public. If people don't see the AHA seal of approval and they've witnessed questionable animal treatment during a film, the AHA gets called, the movie receives negative publicity and the studio's reputation is potentially damaged, along with the reputations of all those involved.

Behind the scenes

So, what was really going on in that violent garage scene in "The Dark Knight"?

The running dog-lunge effect was created by putting a dog at the base of a custom-made ramp and having its trainer cue the dog to run up the ramp and grab a toy from his hand. To make it appear as if the dog was attacking an actor, a camera was placed on the ground nearby, shooting the action from the man's point of view. The magic of editing seamlessly made this look like a dog running, then lunging at a man.

As for the dogs that were biting the man's feet and arms and dragging him off, a costumed trainer wearing a padded stunt outfit was used. The dogs responded to the verbal commands and hand signals of off-screen trainers to "bite'' in various spots. The man's body was hooked up to an unseen cable pulled by stuntmen.

And Batman picking up one of the dogs and tossing it away?

That was achieved by using a fake dog and cutting in shots of a real, well-rehearsed dog being gently tossed a short distance by its trainer and landing on thick padding.

And finally, the scene in which the Joker appears to beat the dogs on top of Batman with a pipe? The dogs were fake.

The successful protection of animals in this movie earned "The Dark Knight'' the AHA's highest rating of "Outstanding.''

For a behind-the-scenes look at the care given to protect animals on a movie set, click here.  

Credit: Reviewed by Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS, and John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD
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