Animal Actors: Is There Really a Purpose?

Animal actors are animals of many different varieties that appear in a production. A production may be a commercial, a television show with repeated episodes, a music video, or a movie. Animal actors may be the “star of the show” for the whole world to fall in love with or take more of a lesser, secondary role. These “actors” get paid just like their human counterparts and coworkers; high-paying animal actors include Rin Tin Tin, the German Shepherd in several Hollywood movies who earned $6,000 per week (in the 1930’s!) and Crystal Monkey, who played in Night at the Museum and Hangover 2. She made a whopping $64,000 per season!

  The Hangover movie poster featuring Crystal Monkey. 

The Hangover movie poster featuring Crystal Monkey. 

Recently, media coverage of a leaked video from the making of the movie “A Dog’s Purpose” caused quite a firestorm with animal welfare advocates, including PETA. This video was a small snippet from the making of a scene where it appears a dog trainer forcing a very frightened German Shepherd into a pool of rough water. The video, for dog lovers or not, is quite alarming to view, as the anxious dog clearly did not want to go into the water as the handler pulled him toward it. Another take shows the dog going into the water, but then sinking under the rough water for about four seconds.

  A dog-s purpose movie poster.

A dog-s purpose movie poster.

However, there are two sides to every story. Of course, when animal advocates loudly voiced their outrage, excuses were clearly made by the individuals on the set for how and why the situation occurred. As an animal photographer, when I learned of the malpractice on the film set, I made the choice not to support the movie by going to the theater.


One of the dogs in the film "A Dog's Purpose" desperately resisted shooting a risky scene, but chilling footage shows filmmakers apparently forcing the animal into rushing water.

I do not support movies where animals are used. Fortunately for producers of movies that would involve the use of an animal, either as a main character or secondary character, modern technology on the set can allow this to happen without the animal being physically on set. There are numerous techniques to create a story that features an animal, or a group of animals, available. Computer-generated imagery is one of those ways that is often used in the production of film and television. This allows producers to allow animals to be an integral part of any story without using animals at all.


Jurassic World's dinosaurs were created through computer-generated imagery by Industrial Light & Magic.

There is no situation where the welfare and well-being of our animal friends needs to be sacrificed to entertain people. Close to my hometown, in Riudellots de la Selva, is a sanctuary called La Mona (http://fundacionmona.org/). It is a sanctuary for Chimpanzees, and I am the proud Godmother of Toni, a chimpanzee used for McDonald’s commercials many years ago. Toni, along with the other primates in the sanctuary, suffer from emotional damage and physical problems due to the workload and harsh expectations of these innocent animals.

  Billy, an actor chimpanzee has been used in many commercials.

Billy, an actor chimpanzee has been used in many commercials.

Animals steal the heart of many. Any true animal lover who has watched a movie, television commercial, or other production has experienced the heartstrings that have been pulled. However, impeding the social and emotional well-being of an animal for the sake of starring in a movie role, or helping to sell a product, should never be done. A professional and highly-experienced producer should have the ability to take advantage of today’s modern technology to showcase an animal, or be able to profitably advertise a product in a different format.