No Animals Were Harmed® in the making of Max: Behind the scenes of this must-see new movie!

Txtd-Final-Rated-1sht-MXMGM-compAmerican Humane Association has been doing a lot of work over the past year to bring home our nation’s military hero dogs and reunite them with their former handlers and battle buddies with whom they fought overseas on the hot sands of Iraq and Afghanistan. So we are especially proud to be involved with MGM’s upcoming film, Max, which is the perfect on-screen depiction of the unbreakable bond between military dog and handler. Max is the story of a beloved dog who returns home after serving Marine Kyle Wincott, and his platoon in Afghanistan. After Kyle is killed in battle, Max is shipped back to Kyle’s family where he befriends his younger brother, Justin Wincott. At first, Max and his adopted family are reluctant to get close to each other, mostly because Max suffers from post-traumatic stress following his experience in the war.

Soon, however, Justin and Max forge a special friendship, and in doing so discover a dark secret about one of Kyle’s fellow soldiers who has returned from the frontlines. Justin and Max’s journey is a tale of hope, compassion, and love. Their friendship reflects the depth of the human-animal bond and also shines an important light on the vital role of military dogs in this country. Max is not only a family drama filled with excitement and intrigue but is also an important film everyone should see.

There’s a lot of intense animal action in the film, especially with some of the battle scenes, but don’t worry: Certified Animal Safety Representatives from American Humane Association’s “No Animals Were Harmed®” animal welfare certification program were on set. I am proud to say that Max received our top rating for excellence in ensuring the humane treatment of all of the animal stars. Mark Forbes was the animal trainer for Max, played by animal star Carlos, and he did an outstanding job! American Humane Association’s representatives were on set working with the trainers, producers, director Boaz Yakin, and the excellent cast, and it was a pleasure to be there with this great group of people.

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Constructing visually stunning scenes while ensuring the animals were not harmed in any way made our collaboration with Max a grand success. Using green screen effects, CGI, and the skill of the animal actors the direct, animal trainers and our own certified animal safety representatives were able to construct an intense-looking action movie.

However, in reality, the animals were never in harm’s way, and by utilizing various tricks and tactics of the trade – what we call movie magic – amazing action sequences were created, especially the dramatic “fight” between Max and a Rottweiler. Let me give you a little more insight into how that climactic scene was filmed:

  • When we see a quick shot of Max biting the Rottweiler in the rear leg, trainers used a fake dog head (which looked exactly like Max’s head) to simulate Max’s head bending down to bite him.
  • The dogs in this scene were filmed on green screen so CGI could fill in the blanks and really make it look as if the dogs were biting and fighting.
  • The dogs were filmed separately. By filming them separately, trainers had the freedom to cue them to bark and growl. Editing made it look as if they were barking and growling in close proximity to each other.
  • The dogs never really “fought” or “bit” each other. Trainers and two American Humane Association Certified Animal Safety Representatives were on set to make sure the dogs were safe the whole time.
  • The two dogs were kept together prior to shooting scenes to get them acquainted with each other.

We are so proud that we got to work on the set of this movie that promotes the importance of the human-animal bond and the vital role that dogs play for our military. Please stay tuned for our next blog posting about the story of Max and American Humane Association’s advocacy efforts for military working dogs!  And be sure to go to a theater on June 26 for the world premiere of Max!  Your family will love it!

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Canines and Childhood Cancer Study Presented at Conference

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This month, I traveled to the American Society of Pediatric Hematology Oncology Conference in Phoenix, Arizona to present a poster showing preliminary data from American Humane Association’s Canines and Childhood Cancer (CCC) study. The CCC Study, funded by Zoetis, seeks to examine and document the healing effects of animal therapy on child cancer patients and their families.  This conference is attended by more than 1,000 pediatric hematologists and oncologists each year, including doctors from many of our research study sites. Pediatric oncologists from our participating children’s hospitals at U Mass, Vanderbilt and Randall stopped by the poster to talk about the study’s progress and share positive stories regarding their involvement in the CCC study and how much the children enjoy the dogs.

The poster attracted many doctors and nurses from hospitals across the country who shared hospital stories related to their existing pet therapy programs. Several doctors told me that they were happy to see this poster here at the conference since these types of programs are very important, doctors do not always remember to utilize them, and the impact that they have on the patients and families can be quite profound. One told me, “I can treat kids with cancer all day long, but seeing them with these dogs and the way they make them smile brings me to tears.” The doctor went on to share a story and photo of a young patient who had his arm amputated due to cancer and was now getting visits from a therapy dog with only one eye. The doctor marveled at the happiness that the dog brought that child because they had something in common, and how the child loved to walk the dog around the hospital and talk to people.

The conference was a huge success with many doctors and nurses gaining awareness of the CCC study and looking forward to our results!

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Betting on the future of racehorses

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Millions of Americans, and indeed millions around the world, will tune in to the Preakness this Saturday, watching the performance of incredible four-legged athletic champions in their pursuit of the Triple Crown. Regardless of what your ideology is on racing, the horses are beautiful, and we all want to ensure they are humanely treated and provided with a forever loving home in their retirement.Several years ago, American Humane Association provided assistance to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) as they developed a rigorous and thorough accreditation process for the retirement of Thoroughbreds. “The American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Humane Association, among many others, have helped the TAA create a rigorous and thorough accreditation process that prioritizes one thing above all else – the welfare of retired Thoroughbreds,” said TAA Vice President Madeline Auerbach.

The efforts to create this program enlisted the best science in animal welfare to ensure a humane retirement. “The American Association of Equine Practitioners strongly supports the efforts of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance,” said AAEP President Dr. Jeff Blea. “The AAEP has worked in partnership with the TAA on the development of its Code of Standards, best practices, its application and its site inspector documents and we support its efforts to improve the care of Thoroughbreds at rescue and retirement facilities throughout North America.”

In announcing this partnership with the TAA, I wrote, “after a lifetime of work, our magnificent Thoroughbreds deserve a great retirement. The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance has been making significant strides in raising the level of care for these magnificent animals, accrediting nearly two dozen equine aftercare organizations in the just the first two years. We encourage all those doing the important work of caring for retired thoroughbreds to apply and join the growing movement of organizations committed to the highest possible standards.”

And retirement isn’t the only area being addressed. Today, there are advancements and developments in the racing industry that animal lovers applaud. The Jockey Club has been a leader in promoting medication reform for these powerful athletes, stating, “As an organization, The Jockey Club firmly believes that horses should compete only when they are free from the influence of medication.” In fact, The New York State Racing and Wagering Board enacted a series of new rules in 2012 that significantly restrict the use of legal drugs for horses and require trainers to disclose what treatments their horses have received. As reported by Tom Precious in The Horse on November 24, 2014, “New York regulators enacted the most sweeping set of equine drug rules in more than 30 years in the state, providing a more certain threshold for allowable amounts of medication from two dozen different drugs in Thoroughbreds prior to running in a race.”

Animal advocate, actress, author and businesswoman Victoria Principal recently shared with me the details of her campaign to encourage more states to follow in New York’s hoof prints. She encourages animal lovers to not bet on horse races until those states change their practices and adopt the advanced set of regulations that New York has enacted.

“I encourage everyone who loves horse racing to continue going to the races or watching the races…but not to bet on the races,” said Ms. Principal. “In this manner you will be honoring the wonderful thoroughbred athletes and their equally gifted jockeys, but not aiding the racing industry in its exploitation of race horses. This can cause financial hardship for the racing industry which has the potential to inspire them to emulate and facilitate updated and sweeping drug enforcement like the state of New York. Think of all the times you lost at the race track.  Don’t bet, support our thoroughbred athletes and be a humane winner!”

If any animal is an American icon, it is the horse. We love horses so let’s support their futures by supporting commonsense and much-needed reforms to ensure good lives and a great finish for these magnificent creatures.

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Kindness 100: Celebrating a century of “Be Kind to Animals Week®” all year-round

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For generations of Americans, the first week of May has always been associated with kindness. Indeed, from May 3-9 millions of people around the country young and old will join American Humane Association to celebrate our “Be Kind to Animals Week®,” the oldest commemorative week in U.S. history.

What makes this year so special is that we will be celebrating 100 years as the most successful humane education effort ever undertaken. Continue reading

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Battle Buddies deserve better: Update from Capitol Hill

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Over the past few days, we have enjoyed productive meetings with members of Congress and staff talking about the fixes for contract working dogs and military working dogs.

These issues are complicated as anything is in the government and defense bureaucracy, but we are working collaboratively with Congress and are so appreciative of the members’ insights and willingness to roll up their sleeves and help. Continue reading

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Battle Buddies: A Mother’s Heartfelt Plea

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Friends,

This week, I head to Capitol Hill to advocate for America’s military and contract working dogs – our canine war heroes. I’ll be joined by Specialist Brent Grommet, Corporal Jeff DeYoung, and their battle buddies, with our celebrity champion, Naomi Judd. As we prepare to advocate for changes affecting military and contract working dogs, I am reminded of the healing power of the bond for battle buddies on both ends of the leash. Continue reading

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