A Dog’s Purpose controversy a PR stunt?

A Dog’s Purpose was originally designed to pull on the heartstrings of animal lovers everywhere, but was struck with controversy after behind-the-scenes footage was leaked only a few weeks before the opening date (by TMZ, of course).

The video featured a terrified German shepherd, named Hercules, being forced to perform in a pool with water jets as special effects to imitate rapids. The clip, now with over eight million views, instantly caught the attention of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an animal rights group who called for a boycott of the film.

Despite the controversy, I’m amazed that the film still managed to make $18.4 million this past opening weekend.  For a movie that only cost $22 million to make, that’s a very healthy return on investment in just the first few days alone.

So while at first this situation seemed like Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment’s worst nightmare, I’m now impressed at the possibility this could all have been a well-crafted publicity stunt.

Thomas Goutus, a second-year English and history student at Ryerson said he will not be seeing the movie due to the controversy. “I saw the video that was trending online and… it gave me heart tremors watching that poor dog.”

And he’s not the only one. One week before the Canadian debut, dozens of viewers took to Tribute.ca to express their displeasure with the animal abuse allegations. One more week later and those reviews have turned to positive recounts of the heartwarming tale between man and his best friend. Criticism about the abuse seems to have disappeared.

I’ll admit, I was originally upset at the video of the scared dog resisting jumping into the water. Yet at the same time, as the owner of a puppy who tries to claw his way out of every bath, I can somewhat understand the ordeal.

A Dog’s Purpose. Courtesy Universal Pictures.

Goutus says he recognizes that the movie set might get busy, but thinks someone should have been there to stop it. And as it turns out, there was an animal safety representative on sight — who has since been suspended.

This controversy sparked many more questions within me, including, “is this really a dog’s purpose?” I naturally feel stricken with guilt at the idea that this could be happening more than we think.

PETA was quick to report that at Birds and Animals United (BAU) — the Hollywood company that supplies animals for use in film, television and advertisements — this kind of incident is just one of many.

Eyewitnesses who worked at BAU reported chronic neglect leading to sick and injured animals that went without adequate veterinary care and lived in filthy enclosures, according to PETA.

Selena Benvenuto, a first-year early childhood studies student, says she’s sure this happens in many other movies too. “After seeing the first trailer it looked good and pretty sappy which I’m into. But then after seeing that video of them pulling the dog into the water it was kind of shocking.” Benvenuto will not be seeing the movie.

I know I’m not the only one who questioned the motives of the individual who filmed and released the clip of Hercules on set. If there was really a concern for the animal’s well being, why not call PETA or TMZ the next day? Why wait over one year to let people know? This idea is what pulls me to the conclusion that perhaps someone might have made the decision to develop A Dog’s Purpose PR ‘crisis’ only to get more media attention. And the box office numbers clearly prove that it was a success.

I guess it’s true what they say: all press is good press, right?

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