Animals in Entertainment – How and To What Extent are They Protected?
In the legal world, animals are considered property. This categorization makes sense in many aspects, as animals cannot bring suit. As property, animals do not have rights, duties, and cannot be bound by laws and regulations. While this seems like a clear-cut and accurate categorization, many animal activists argue that animals are not simply property. In fact, most people consider their pets family members. Animals are capable of exhibiting emotions and human-like traits, including excitement, fear, and loyalty. Animal law is undoubtedly in its infancy in terms of legal development, but animals have been used as entertainment for centuries. How has this area of animal law developed? Surprisingly, animals find more protection under organizations like the American Humane Society and the Screen Actor’s Guild than local and federal laws.
A Quick History Lesson
There is evidence of animals being used for entertainment dating as far back as 2,000 B.C. in Macedonia, where writings depict lions being held in cages for the benefit of humans. Ancient Romans hosted the Circus Maximus, which often ended in gory deaths for both humans and horses. Dogfighting, cockfighting, and bullfighting all have their places in various cultural histories. Some countries now ban the use of animals in entertainment altogether (Sweden, Austria, Costa Rica, India, Finland, and Singapore). Of course, circuses and forms of animal entertainment that remove wild animals from their natural habitats are susceptible to skepticism due to this aspect alone; but what about Uggie – the Jack Russell Terrier from the 2011 film, “The Artist?” What about Blofeld’s cat from the 1963 James Bond film, “From Russia with Love?” Is there any protection for animals that appear in movies and on television?
In the 1940’s, Western movies became very popular. Tripwires and pitfalls were used to make horses fall to the ground in certain scenes. Although there were a few horses that were trained to fall on command, many horses were injured as a result of falling or jumping. Some productions even caused the death of horses – for example, the 1939 movies “Northwest Mounted Police” and “Jesse James” both resulted in multiple horse deaths.
The Evolution of Animal Treatment Regulations in Film
In 1925, the American Humane Society set up a committee to investigate cruelties in the training of animals in movies. There are stories about the American Humane Society being chased off of sets with guns during this time, as they were not welcomed guests on set. Will H. Hays became President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America around this time, and his goal, under the “Hays Code,” was to renovate the image of the movie industry. As part of the Hays Code, protection of animals became standard in the film industry. The Hays Code was abandoned in the 1970’s, and the Humane Society was again unwelcome on set until the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) made a major change. SAG welcomed animal actors to the organization in the late 1970’s. The producers’ position and responsibility for the well being of animals on sets is now codified in the Producer-Screen Actors Guild Basic Agreement. In addition, the producer must notify the American Humane Association prior to beginning any work with animals on set. The agreement further instructs that representatives of the American Humane Association are allowed access to sets while animals are being used.
SAG guidelines are very stringent; in fact, they even set out special requirements for extras and others who supply animals – although the agreement reiterates that production is ultimately responsible for the well being of animals on set. The guidelines include specific clauses for training and socialization, water, shade and shelter, housing, and prohibitions against animals in the heat. These guidelines apply to all animals, regardless of their prominence or insignificance to the production. The American Humane guidelines adopted by SAG are 127 pages of detailed regulations for the treatment of animals while on set. Movies that display the “no animals harmed” disclaimer indicate American Humane supervision and the use of SAG guidelines in films today.
Are there still issues with the treatment of animals in entertainment?
With stringent guidelines in place and strict enforcement, animal actors are protected not only from injury, but also from stress and discomfort. It seems as though animals in film are actually one of the most protected categories under anti-cruelty regulation, but how strict is the enforcement? Some animal activists assert that the “no animals harmed” disclaimer does more for the movie than for the animals. Because the disclaimer increases the film’s distribution and appeal, some argue that the disclaimer is more of a promotion tool than anything else. One blogger describes how 27 animals died unnecessary deaths during the making of the 2012 film, “The Hobbit,” even though the film featured the American Humane disclaimer. In fact, the director of the film issued a public statement denying these accusations that apparently stemmed from animal wranglers who were dismissed from the film. However, a spokesman for the director later acknowledged that goats, chickens, and one sheep died at a farm while being housed off-set. Although the American Humane Association investigated the farm conditions at the request of production and made recommendations, the wranglers say that there were multiple avoidable animal deaths that took place on the farm.
It seems as though the housing of animals off set is a blind spot in the seemingly all-encompassing SAG guidelines (if the wranglers’ allegations are correct). However, it cannot be denied that Hollywood has made animal safety a priority. Just a couple of years ago, HBO cancelled a series called “Luck,” after three horses died during production. The show was apparently cancelled because production could not guarantee against future horse deaths or injuries. There’s no doubt that the American Humane Society’s goals are underlined by the care and protection of our furry friends. So… are there still issues with animal treatment in the entertainment industry? I guess it depends on whom you ask.