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Malibu-based filmmaker sues Humane Society over $1-million pledge

A Malibu-based filmmaker has filed a lawsuit against the Humane Society of the United States, accusing the animal rights organization of reneging on an agreement to promote his documentary film about the dog meat trade in Asia.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Thursday, alleges that the Humane Society accepted a pledge by Hiroshi Horiike for $1 million with the understanding that the group would help promote his film, “Eating Happiness.”

The donation was to be made in two installments of $500,000 over two years. The first $500,000 was transferred to the Humane Society in August, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit alleged that the Humane Society also promised that federal legislation banning the consumption of dog meat in the United States would be passed within three months of receiving the money.

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But after receiving the first installment of the donation, the organization failed to follow through, undermining the impact of the documentary, Horiike alleges. The film was released in the United States earlier this month.

“Thirty million dogs are killed every year for the dog meat trade in Asia, and at least 70% are stolen pets,” Horiike said in a statement. “Dogs are howling, and it hurts my heart like a knife stabbing on my heart.”

The Humane Society’s inaction “brought irreparable damage to my ability to promote the movie’s message,” he said.

Wayne Pacelle, the chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said the organization made stopping the dog meat trade in Asia a top priority long before they began discussions with Horiike.

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The organization agreed to hold some events and screenings of the movie, and planned on using Horiike’s donation to assist efforts it had already begun to push for a federal law banning the sale of dogs for consumption.

“We’re not film promoters, we’re animal protection advocates,” he said. “We have a very serious global campaign against the dog meat trade -- the biggest campaign ever seen before this guy ever meeting us -- and we’re committed to it even when he leaves the stage.”

Federal legislation takes time to develop and the Humane Society offered to return the $500,000 donation it received but was rebuffed by Horiike, Pacelle said. He said “Eating Happiness,” not his organization, should be blamed for any lackluster response to the film.

“He thought he was going to win an Oscar for this film and I don’t think that was in the cards,” Pacelle said.

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A Los Angeles Times review of the documentary this week described the film as a “polemic against the consumption of dog meat in mainland China, South Korea and Vietnam” that is “tough to stomach in more ways than one.”

“A capricious, counterintuitive narrative also renders the film nearly unwatchable,” the review said.

For more Los Angeles court news, follow @sjceasar on Twitter.

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