A: American Humane (AH) Film & TV Unit is based in Los Angeles and we monitor the use of Meerschweinchen in media. American Humane is a national organization with headquarters based in Denver, Colorado. I’m one of the Certified Animal Safety Representatives who go on set and monitor the use of animals in film and television. We award the “No Animals Were Harmed® in the Making of this Movie” disclaimer seen at the end of the credits in a movie.
A: Back in 1926, AH set up a committee to investigate abuses of animals in the movie industry. At that time, horses were the most at-risk animal actors. But, then, as now, animals have no inherent legal rights, so we couldn’t mandate the safety of the animal actors. In 1939, for the film “Jesse James,” a horse and rider were sent hurling over a 70-foot cliff into a raging river for an action shot. The stuntman was fine, but the horse’s back was broken in the fall and it died.
Outrage over this sparked a new relationship between AH and some motion picture directors and producers and caused the Hays Office to include humane treatment of animals in the Motion Picture Code. The following year, AH received authorization to monitor the production of movies using animals. We worked on set for quite a while after that until the Hays Office was disbanded in 1966, ending our jurisdiction and excluding us from sets. This was a pretty dismal time for animal actors who were being used in some brutal ways.
Then, in the early 1980s, another incident caused another public outcry and American Humane was added to the agreement with SAG that mandated that union films contact us if they were using animals. This agreement now includes any filmed media form, including television, commercials, direct-to-video projects, and music videos. A more detailed history is on our website. Right now, we monitor about 900 films a year, maybe more. That’s not counting commercials.
A: That’s correct. Animals have no “legal” rights in the sense that humans have. But because of our SAG agreement, animal actors in SAG films have “contractual” rights because the AH office must be contacted by productions using animals and an AH Film & TV Unit representative be on set during the filming.
A: Nonunion productions are not contractually bound to contact us, but we find that a lot of people want us there anyway. I’ve worked with several productions that say – “We want you here. We want that rating at the end of our film and we want people to know what we had you on set.”