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Animal welfare group American Humane Assn. awards its own Oscars

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In advance of Sunday’s Academy Awards, the American Humane Assn. has released its choices for the best animal movies of the year.

‘The use of animals in filmed entertainment celebrates the roles of animals in our history, in our families and in our lives ... Animals play a starring role in many of our lives -- it is only natural to feature them in films and TV shows,’ American Humane president and Chief Executive Marie Belew Wheatley writes on her blog.

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American Humane’s picks for last year’s best movies featuring animals:

Best movie magic featuring an animal: ‘The Dark Knight.’ The film features a very dramatic sequence in which dogs attack a man and then are attacked themselves. Rest assured, no dogs were harmed. The production used a combination of techniques, including playing with the dogs, filming the dogs from various angles and using prop dogs to achieve a realistic effect. Most poignant movie illustrating the human-animal bond: ‘Marley & Me.’ If you saw it, you had to dig out some tissues. This movie shows that even an overly rambunctious dog is still a valued and important member of the family, and the loss of a companion animal is truly the loss of a friend. Best behind-the-scenes rescue story: ‘Beverly Hills Chihuahua.’ According to Chris Obonsawin, American Humane’s certified animal safety representative on the set of this film, one of the lead dogs who played Papi was a day away from being euthanized before a trainer discovered him in a California animal shelter. The dog now lives with the movie’s head trainer. Many trainers find their animals at animal shelters. Trainer Frank Inn adopted a mutt from a California shelter in the 1960s. The mutt became Benji.

Best group effort to protect horses: ‘Appaloosa.’ In Appaloosa, there is a scene in which men on horses cross a stream, then gallop up a ravine. The movie’s animal safety representative, Ed Lish, explained that sending the horses through a stream, where sharp rocks or other dangers might be hidden under the water, would be against American Humane’s guidelines. The entire crew immediately jumped in to scour both the stream and the ravine to clear the way of debris and ensure safety and comfort for the horses. Best rescue by a snake: ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.’ When Mutt grabs a vine to save Indy, who is sinking in quicksand, they find themselves grasping a snake. The production used a real python for some gentle ‘establishing shots,’ then brought in a prop substitute for the ‘real’ action.

American Humane, the group behind the ‘No animals were harmed’ end-credit disclaimer, has monitored the use of animals in film and television since the 1940s.

-- Lindsay Barnett


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