(Reuters) - What was billed as a heart-warming comedy movie aimed at dog lovers turned into a marketing nightmare on Thursday after a video emerged of a frightened dog being forced into rushing water on the film set.
Animal activist group PETA called for a boycott of the movie, "A Dog's Purpose." Its director, Lasse Hallstrom, said on Twitter that as a lifelong animal lover he was "very disturbed" by the video and had not witnessed the event.
The American Humane Association, which monitors the treatment of animals in films, said in a statement that it had suspended its representative who was on the film set and was bringing in a third party to investigate.
The video, obtained by celebrity news website TMZ, showed a dog handler repeatedly trying to coax a German Shepherd into cold rushing water. Off-camera, someone is heard laughing, saying, "You just got to throw him in."
The Universal Pictures release, starring Dennis Quaid, is about a devoted dog re-born several times to different owners, bringing warmth into their lives. It is due for release in the United States on Jan. 26.
Actor Josh Gad, who voices the dog in the film, said he was "shaken and sad" at the video, although he did not know the circumstances as he was never on set.
"I signed on for a film that truly stands out as one of the most beautiful love letters to animals I have ever seen," Gad wrote on Twitter. "I am shaken and sad to see any animal put in a situation against its will."
Producer Amblin Entertainment said it was investigating the incident but had followed protocols about the use of animals on film sets.
"There were several days of rehearsal of the water scenes to ensure Hercules (the German Shepherd) was comfortable with all of the stunts. On the day of the shoot, Hercules did not want to perform the stunt portrayed on the tape so the Amblin production team did not proceed with filming that shot."
"Hercules is happy and healthy," Amblin said in a statement on Wednesday.
However, animal lovers were shocked.
"Do not take your children to see this movie unless you want to reward and encourage animal abuse," wrote Jerry Sprinkle on the user review page for "A Dog's Purpose" on movie website IMDB.com.
"As an animal lover, I wanted to see this film. As an animal lover, I can never see it," tweeted a user called @Amitsacheva under the trending Twitter hashtag #BoycottADogsPurpose.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Richard Chang