When he's on a film set, Ken Gold sees himself as the sole advocate for the health and welfare of one part of the cast that can't speak for itself: the animals.
Gold, who is based in Chicago, has worked for the past 11 years as an American Humane Association-certified animal safety representative on film sets around the world to make sure that no animals are harmed. Gold is one of only 37 humane association representatives worldwide to monitor more than 2,000 film sets each year.
"I look after the welfare of animals, as animals can't walk off the set, while everyone else can," said Gold, who works with all kinds of animals, from monkeys and bats to dogs and goldfish.
To protect the animals, Gold has made sure electrical cords are not left uncovered in the presence of horses, because they may perceive them to be snakes and get spooked. He also has ordered precautionary water-quality tests before animals are immersed in lakes or rivers; brought in backup generators for fish tanks to counteract power outages; and looked out for signs of animal fatigue.
"Giving the animal downtime, when the trainer covers up their cage and places it in a dark, quiet space, is essential to the animal's staying fresh and capable of going on with the rest of the shoot," he said.
Gold's portfolio of work has blossomed to encompass hundreds of productions, including "Marley & Me," a 2008 movie about a lovable and rambunctious dog; director Steven Soderbergh's 2011 film "Contagion," about an outbreak of a deadly disease; and the forthcoming "Superman Man of Steel," about Superman's childhood. He also has worked on TV productions such as the recent reboot of the "Hawaii Five-O" series, where the animals remained quarantined because of Hawaii's strict sanitation requirements, and the locally shot "Chicago Fire," about life in a Chicago firehouse.
The issue of animal welfare while on film sets made national news in spring 2012 when the HBO series "Luck," starring Dustin Hoffman as a mobster looking to control Santa Anita Park in the Los Angeles area, saw a number of animal deaths during production, with two horses euthanized during the first season and a third during the second season, which finally spurred the show's cancellation. Gold was not involved in the production.
Gold became a certified animal safety representative after years studying and working with animals.
"I always loved animals. … Initially, I was interested in exotics and how captivity affected them," said Gold, a primatologist whose early career focused primarily on monkeys and apes.
He got a master's degree in systematic and behavioral biology at San Francisco State University, where he studied under Dr. Hal Markowitz, one of the modern founders of a movement to improve the environment for zoo animals. In the 1990s, Gold worked as an animal behaviorist and assistant curator for the Lincoln Park Zoo, before moving abroad to become the general curator for Apenheul Primate Park in the Netherlands and the general curator at the Singapore Zoo.
Gold, who also holds a doctorate in psychology from the Georgia Institute of Technology, had to go through several weeks of intensive training at the American Humane Association in Los Angeles before he was certified to work on film sets. He also shadowed another certified animal safety representative before he embarked on the job.
"There would be no program (of animal monitoring on film sets) if not for the certified animal safety representatives," said Jone Bauman, a spokeswoman for the American Humane Association's Film & TV unit. "They are very hard to replace (and) require a very difficult skill set to fill: extensive animal background, broad across all species; diplomacy-set etiquette; able to work at a moment's notice; and be comfortable in any environment."
Gold said he has learned mostly while on the job.
"Nothing can prepare you for the job, which calls for interpreting the (animal-handling) guidelines" based on particular situations, he said. "Some (production shoots) are easier, while some more challenging. It is important for me to be aware of what's going on."
Gold, who says he is on the road about 200 days per year, often is asked to work with little advance warning. Upon acceptance of an assignment he is sent a package with a shooting schedule, breakdown of locations and select pages from the script pertaining to shots involving the usage of animals.
A production's portrayal of animals typically can be classified in one of three categories:
•Mild, with animals acting in a normal, controlled manner, such as dogs on a leash.
•Moderate, such as dogs off a leash.
•Intense, such as dogs running across street.
Before filming starts, Gold reviews the production plans and tried to address "problems before they become problems," he said. "I can't stop myself. I am an analytical thinker; I enjoy solving puzzles."
Gold and the other certified animal safety representatives are paid by the American Humane Association, which enables them to retain their independence while working on a film set.
And because, as Gold stated, filmmakers genuinely want to act conscientiously, the reps are able to provide a very vital and appreciated service.
Formally established in 1940, the guidelines put forth by the American Humane Association's Film & TV Unit adhere to the credo that all animals should be treated humanely, and people should celebrate the special role they play in human society.
"Animals live in the real world. They are bound to be part of (filmmakers') stories, as they bring more emotion to any theme. They serve as ambassadors for their species," Bauman said.
Gold said his job is fulfilling.