American Humane Association’s Film & Television Unit monitors a yearly average of more than 1,000 productions, which include motion pictures, TV shows, music videos, and commercials.
American Humane Association has been overseeing the welfare of animal actors since 1940. To shoot a dramatic scene for the 1939 movie Jesse James, a stunt rider and his horse were sent over a 70-foot cliff into a raging river. The rider lost his hat, but the horse lost its life. As a result, American Humane Association led a massive protest against Jesse James and opened a western regional office in Hollywood to more vocally advocate on behalf of animals used in film. We were granted access to movie sets under the Hays Office, which established, among other protocol, a code of animal welfare standards for the film industry. We continued that work until 1966, when the Hays Office was disbanded for its strict codes that amounted to censorship. For a time, that also ended our official jurisdiction to protect animals in filmed entertainment -- to the detriment of countless animals. Some conscientious filmmakers continued to welcome us on set; however, that was the exception rather than the rule, and American Humane Association was often banned from movie productions.
Animal abuse on the set and inhumane techniques for obtaining certain behaviors -- such as the use of trip wires on horses -- were rampant until 1980. Such egregious treatment culminated that year with the filming of Heaven’s Gate, which made it apparent to both the industry and the moviegoing public that our monitoring oversight was essential to ensure the safety of animals. American Humane Association was granted formal on-set jurisdiction in 1980 through a codified agreement with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).