Today, AHA's name in the credits assures viewers animals were not harmed during production. But there are serious questions about AHA's record, reports CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales.
For example, AHA endorsed Running Free even though "Four horses died" during production and trainers used "whips, shock collars and a BB gun" on other horses, according to a report from an animal welfare monitor on location.
Gini Barrett, the head of AHA's Hollywood office, wrote in an e-mail, "Regarding shock collars...I have used them and seen them used...folks get excited easily about things that look bad."
"The value of the American Humane Association is not really to protect animals, but it is to create the illusion for movie-goers that the animals are being protected," said Bob Barker.
AHA was on the set of Project X when witnesses claim chimpanzees were beaten. Bob Barker, animal rights activist and host of The Price Is Right on CBS, gave their statements to law enforcement.
"The trainer struck the chimpanzees across the back, shoulder area and chest area with clubs and blackjacks," said Barker.
Government investigators found numerous animal cruelty violations but AHA defended the trainers and sued Barker, whose insurance company later settled with AHA.
AHA was on the set of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman and again defended trainers even though the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found horses were "overworked" and subjected to "unnecessary suffering."
The CBS television program's executive producer, Beth Sullivan, fired the head trainer.
She wonders where the AHA was, noting, "As the watchdog agency they weren't there. They weren't on their toes."
One possible motive money. The movie industry provides all the funds for AHA's monitoring.
Sullivan was also asked if the AHA can do the job it promises. "Not under the circumstances of their funding and their affiliations and the inbred kind of quality that has developed over the years," she replied.
Before taking over AHA's Hollywood office, Barrett was a lobbyist for the film industry. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, as well as interviews and memos obtained by CBS News, staffers claim she protected producers.
For example, after a horse died on the set of The 13th Warrior, an AHA investigator complained to the AHboard that Barrett "didn't want things 'stirred up' before the movie was about to open...she let me go so far and then pulled the plug."
Barrett retired two weeks ago. When contacted she denied any wrongdoing and referred us to AHA's president, Tim O'Brien.
And when O'Brien was asked if investigations are shut down and if movie companies are protected by the AHA, he responded, "Absolutely not. We are effectively monitoring the industry. I think their record of compliance with our high standards indicates that this program is working and is working very well."
The program may be working better for the industry than for the animals it was designed to protect.
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