You probably remember that whole American Humane Association scandal from a few months ago. You know, the one where only official monitoring body for animal care in Hollywood was actually playing fast and loose with the phrase “No Animals Were Harmed,” and covering up all kinds of animal-harming that occurred under their watch. Dozens of sea creatures were killed in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl’s many boat explosions. A handler on the set of Failure to Launch was trying to carry a chipmunk on his shoulder when he dropped it and stepped on it, crushing it to death. An AHA monitor, who was having an affair with a Life of Pi executive, conveniently covered up the near-drowning of a tiger on the set of Life of Pi. The list goes on and on, and can be read in extreme length and detail over at The Hollywood Reporter.
After the story broke, the response was a massive outcry…that quickly faded away into a shrug. The monitor who covered up her affair/tiger drowning stepped down from her job. The AHA put out a press release to uphold their good name, claiming that the THR story “distorts the work and record of a respected nonprofit organization that has kept millions of beloved animal actors safe on film and television sets around the world for more than 70 years.” According to the AHA, the stories of animal death are true, but occurred through no fault of the AHA monitors. Apparently, those animals in question died from natural causes or were injured off-set, where the AHA has no official jurisdiction. It’s worth noting, though, that the press release only mentions animals that fit these circumstances- those that don’t, like the chipmunk or a dog on Eight Below that got into a dogfight and was then beaten by a trainer, are left out entirely.
And once the AHA made its apology, everyone moved on with their lives and forgot to actually do something with this information. The AHA went back to doing its usual thing, only making the news to reveal a new series of “Puppy Love” PSAs starring Donny Osmond.
Whereas all the major animal rights stories of the last month were broken by organizations other than the AHA. Friends of Animals called out The Wolf of Wall Street for filming with a chimpanzee that had previously been abused by a circus trainer, while Animal Defense International scolded Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues for including a SeaWorld dolphin show (which, thanks to Blackfish, will forever have a underlying sense of creepiness). But there were no attempts to regulate the AHA or provide any extra care for its accidental furred and feathered victims; having stood atop the highest peak and shouted “This is bad!,” we were all more or less content.
Until now. This January marks the birth of MAP, or Movie Animals Protected, a new nonprofit group that may provide a little competition for the AHA. Lucky for us (and, you know, the animals), MAP has some serious power behind it- the group will be headed by Barbara Casey, a formed AHA bigwig who was (allegedly) fired after challenging the regulations that led to several horse deaths on the set of HBO’s Luck. As well, most of MAP’s on-set monitors will be former AHA exiles.
MAP also has rules in place that were clearly inspired by the recent AHA scandal. MAP monitors are required to immediately issue a statement when an animals is injured; MAP will be able to monitor animal transportation and housing (where the AHA is limited to on-set only); MAP will not have a similar “No Animals Were Harmed” declaration, and will simply note whether or not they were involved with a film. There is, of course, a catch, as there must always be. MAP will receive its funding the same way the AHA does: from the entertainment industry, and while MAP may be a nonprofit, so is the AHA. Both will be receiving generous handfuls of green from the same group they’re supposed to point fingers at if Martin Scorcese ever accidentally steps on a skunk (or when Terrence Malick’s moody bird imagery finally takes a turn for the explicit).
But even if the MAP quickly devolves into a store-brand version of the AHA (and that doesn’t seem particularly likely, given that the group’s head was ousted from the AHA for caring too much about animal regulations), there’s not much cause for concern. As a worst-case scenario, MAP will at least provide some competition for the current leader in (mostly) protecting the animal kingdom. And a little competition is always a good thing- especially when the fate of our nation’s roller-skating chimpanzees is at stake.