I’ve loved animal movies for as long as I can remember.
When I was a kid, I sat on the floor of my grandmother’s lounge room and watched The Adventures of Milo and Otis over and over again – completely perplexed as to how someone taught these animals to act.
How did they know the story? How did they understand where to go? How were they so… professional?
Of course, eventually I realised they weren’t actually acting. They’re animals – they’re just behaving out of instinct in response to the situations they’re placed in.
In the years since, I've consumed movies about animals without giving much thought to their experiences. I watched Air Bud, the entirely plausible story of a dog who's really, really good at basketball. I was completely obsessed with the pig in Babe, so much so that I was genuinely disappointed when I met an actual pig who was kind of... dirty. And not that friendly.
But recently, I joked with a friend about seeing A Dog's Purpose (less because I actually want to see it, and more because a movie has never been more explicitly targeted to my dog-loving sensibilities) and she stopped me. While I had heard the news stories about the treatment of dogs while filming A Dog's Purpose, I had purposely avoided reading them. I don't want to hear about people doing horrible things to a dog. It's disturbing.
But my friend had me stuck. She started describing in detail the sickening history of the treatment of animals on movie sets.
I should have known at the time, but Milo and Otis weren't played by one cat and one dog. They were played by dozens. Upon the release of The Adventures of Milo and Otis, Animal Liberation Queensland founder Jacqui Kent came forward and alleged that more than 20 kittens were killed during filming. She also claimed a person on set had broken a cat's paw to make it look unsteady in a scene, and that one kitten fell off a cliff, while another scene saw producers make a pug fight a bear.