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Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in the Media

When using animal actors, if you require advice, please call the DSPCA during the early stages of pre production!

PH: 01-4994705 or email gillian.bird@dspca.ie

You’re obviously a production company who cares about your animal actors and their welfare. Therefore in order to help you keep them safe; the DSPCA has put together a few guidelines and suggestions for your attention.

We thank you for reading them and hope you’ll find them useful.

What is Animal Cruelty?

There are many reasons why people abuse animals and this covers a vast range of actions, or in some cases, inactions. However, in order to simplify matters, animal cruelty is broken down into two categories, intentional and unintentional.

Intentional cruelty occurs when there is malicious intent because a person has deliberately and intentionally caused harm to an animal. Many studies from around the world including Ireland have shown there is a link between pet cruelty and domestic and child abuse. Intentional animal cruelty is very often seen in association with other serious crimes including drug offences, weapons violations and other illegal activities and can be one of the most visible parts of an entire history of aggressive or antisocial behaviour. Acts of intentional animal cruelty are considered to be indicators of serious psychological problems.

Unintentional or passive cruelty is often depicted by incidences of neglect whereby a lack of action occurs. For example, starvation, dehydration, infestation, infection, the allowing of a collar to become imbedded in an animal’s skin, inadequate food, water or shelter and/or failure to seek veterinary care when necessary.

In some cases of unintentional cruelty, an inspector/animal welfare officer, if they believe the cruelty occurred out of ignorance, may attempt to educate the pet owner and will monitor the situation to ensure that changes do occur in the animal care.

If asked for advice, to be present at or for approval; The DSPCA’s recommended guidelines below should be adhered to by the production company. They are:

At all times, the DSPCA believes that animals should be treated humanely and compassionately. The Society actively continues to expand on its free education programme to schools, colleges, third level, youth groups, family groups and correctional facilities, etc.; and we are now delighted to offer this service to those involved in all aspects of media production particularly where animals are involved.

Our education programmes are all aimed directly at promoting responsible practice in the care, welfare and attitudes regarding animal welfare in order to eradicate the cruel treatment of all animals in this country and, indeed, worldwide.

Animals appearing in film and TV are testament to the human/animal bond. We see this, in particular, through the interaction with trainers, cast, crew and audience. The DSPCA’s mission on location and sets is to protect those animals and ensure they are treated both humanely and compassionately; in a way they thoroughly deserve.

Please Note:

• The DSPCA is happy to work with producers/production companies in order to facilitate safe, effective, efficient and humane performances by animal actors. If you request our advice and assistance you will greatly benefit from it due to our extensive knowledge when it comes to meeting the unique needs of animal actors.

• The DSPCA, as the national organisation and Ireland’s oldest and largest animal rescue/welfare shelter can credibly and objectively advise/report on the animal action when concerns arise.

• The DSPCA is a charitable organisation and does not charge for its education services to schools, colleges, correctional facilities, family groups, youth groups, etc., Please contact the DSPCA (01-4994705 – Gillian) regarding rates for other groups.

• The DSPCA is dedicated to protecting all animals.

• The DSPCA works to develop policies and legislation to reduce abuse, neglect and exploitation of all animals.

• Established in 1840, The DSPCA has been standing up for animals for over 172 years and will continue to strive and promote humane and compassionate treatment in order to secure a better future for all animals.

Prior to Filming.

If its presence/advice is requested, DSPCA personnel should be granted access at all times to animals present at the filming location. Inspecting the animals is an important factor in documenting a production’s care and treatment of the animals.

Production companies should only use animal handlers who are knowledgeable about the species of animal to be used and familiar with set protocol.

A sufficient number of adequately trained animal handlers, as determined or agreed with the DSPCA, should be used to protect the cast, crew and animals.

NB! The DSPCA recommends that personal pets should not be brought to film locations. This recommendation applies to extras, crew, cast members, visitors and anyone else on set.

THE DSPCA recommends and encourages production companies to inspect reports from animal owner compounds and trainers/training facilities prior to contracting their animals for production and to reject those who have recent and/or repeated incidents of animal abuse and/or neglect or other violations related to animal care and treatment.

The DSPCA recommends production companies are proactive when choosing times and seasons in which to film with animals. And that:

• Filming should not be carried out in extreme hot or cold weather conditions and temperatures may become a safety issue around the animal’s welfare.

• Filming should not be done in early morning or late afternoon during times of extreme heat or cold.

• There should be a limited amount of rehearsals and takes.

• A means to provide shelter, shade and heat or cooling for animals.

• If asked to be present, the DSPCA staff, production crew and vets, where appropriate, should communicate regularly and collaborate regarding the care and management of animals during preparation, rehearsal and filming. When changes are made, all relevant parties listed above should be informed immediately.

• All animals must be transported safely, humanely and in accordance with applicable laws.

• Following travel, all animals should be allowed adequate time to rest and acclimate prior to beginning work, as determined by the DSPCA officer on site.

• When live animals are purchased or leased for a scene, (e.g. hamsters, dogs, cats, baby chicks, goldfish, etc.,) and are then returned to the seller/owner, or are adopted at the end of filming, a receipt or other documentation must be submitted to the DSPCA officer on site, indicating the animals were returned or received in good health and condition. Production crew and/or animal handlers shall exercise care and caution in ensuring that animals are placed in appropriate adoptive environments.

• Animals should never be left unattended or unsecured in a manner that would be unsafe or uncomfortable for the animals.

• Animals shall not be left in the care of any person who is inexperienced in the proper care of the animals.

• No alcohol shall be used around animals at any time.

• Only animals that are in appropriate condition to work shall be used.

• Animals that are underweight, overweight or otherwise not in appropriate physical or behavioural condition to perform the required work shall not be used.

• An animal shall not be used if, in the DSPCA’s judgment the animal is not in an appropriate condition.

• Animals shall be trained and prepared in advance to perform the required action.

• The DSPCA will have any animals removed that, in its opinion, are not trained, prepared and conditioned to perform the required animal action.

• It is the responsibility of the production and the animal handler to contact the DSPCA in pre-production of the type and scope of any and all pre production training and conditioning of animals. The DSPCA shall, if requested, monitor the pre-production training and conditioning of animals as a means to determine if they are appropriate for use in filming.

• Animals working with any other animal and/or species shall be given the appropriate time to acclimate to each other and to the film environment.

• If the DSPCA determines that there has not been an appropriate amount of time for acclimation between animals and species prior to filming then the DSPCA may request scenes involving different animals be filmed separately.

• Nothing shall be done to an animal that will cause harm or permanently alter its physical characteristics.

Basic PrincipalsGuidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media.

• The DSPCA’s guidelines prescribe a high standard of care that the film and television production industries provide to animal performers.

• The DSPCA’s guidelines apply to all animals used in the production, including those animals used as background or off-camera to attract the attention of another animal being filmed.

• Animals are not props – even if they are supplied by the props department.

• No animal will be injured, harmed, inhumanely treated or killed for the sake of a film production.

• No animal shall be inhumanely treated in order to illicit a performance.

• Although it may be permitted for necessary veterinary care, general anesthesia and sedation are high-risk procedures and are prohibited for the sole purpose of film making.

• Any scene depicting harm must be simulated. The DSPCA’s guidelines will not include scenes that represent actual harm to an animal, even if filmed as non-fiction so called, ‘news reel’ footage. Such harm, although possibly historic, is considered an exploitation of the animal’s suffering for the sake of entertainment.

• Reality or non-scripted entertainment acceptable to the DSPCA’s guidelines may only include scenes that do not show real harm to a live animal.

• The DSPCA will uphold all applicable anti-cruelty laws.


An Animal: is any sentient creature, including birds, fish, reptiles and insects.

An Animal Handler: is any person responsible for feeding, watering, cleaning, manipulating, loading, crating, shifting, transferring, immobilizing, restraining, treating, training, working or moving any animal. The term ‘animal handler,’ includes, but is not limited to, animal coordinators, wranglers, historic re-enactors and any other cast or crew member or private party providing or taking responsibility for an animal – for example, the props or stunts department. Animal handlers may include vets who are on set for the purpose of ensuring the health of the animals.

Animal Substitutes: are fake animals, animatronics, computer generated images (CGI) and other techniques used to simulate live animals.

Cold Loading: is transferring animals onto or off of an aircraft when engines and rotors/propellers are not running.

Hot Loading: is transferring animals onto or off of an aircraft with the engine and rotors/propellers running.

Equine: means horses, ponies, mules or donkeys.

Harmed: is the physical injury or damage, having had pain or loss of suffering inflicted.

Humane: means marked by an emphasis on humanistic values and concerns which are characterized by kindness, mercy or compassion.

Inhumane: means lacking pity or compassion for another living being.

Insert Vehicle: (or insert car) is any type of moving apparatus that has wheels and a camera mounted for purposes of filming moving action, including, but not limited to, cars, trucks, four wheel drive, golf carts, dune buggies, bicycles, etc., and includes any type of chase vehicle that may be used in filming travelling scenes. The term ‘insert vehicle,’ shall mean any insert vehicle as used in these guidelines. The term ‘crane,’ refers to any arm, boom, or crane with a camera attached which moves independently of the vehicle.

Liberty Animals: are any animals that have received special training and which are not confined nor are their movements restricted and they are not under the direct, hands-on control of an animal handler. Liberty animals are controlled by the use of signals or commands such as voice commands, visual cues (hand signals) or a combination of both and can be reasonably expected to stay at the filming location.

Loose Animals: are any animals that have limited to no training, are not under the direct hands- on control of an animal handler and/or are not restricted or confined.

Motion Picture and Filmed Media: are terms that include, but are not limited to, film, television, music video and computer games. These terms are used interchangeably throughout these guidelines.

Restricted Animals: are any animals whose movements are limited or confined and for which a safety plan is in place to prevent their escape. Restricted animals include, but are not limited to, animals working in an area that has boundaries or is enclosed. Animals restrained by fencing, crates, leads, hobbles and waist-ties are also examples of restricted animals. Animals that are ridden or harnessed and controlled by experienced animal handlers are also deemed restricted. Animals shall be trained and conditioned to the type of confinement used.

Simulated/Staged: refers to either an animal or the activity of an animal that is created or enhanced by artificial technical means, this includes one or a combination of the following: animatronics, puppets, camera angles, split screen, computer generated images, (CGI) and similar techniques. Simulated/staged action may also include the careful choreographing of live animal action to create the illusion of risk. In simulated/staged action, the production avoids placing the live animal in jeopardy.

If requested, the DSPCA can provide the following services:

Pre –Production.

• The DSPCA can provide assistance to evaluate risk factors

• Collaborate to determine safe options and alternatives

• Provide access to information on various species, humane issues and animal welfare experts

On Set.

• The DSPCA can provide advice on the humane treatment of animals

• Reduced liability risks

• Animal safety, yielding to greater cast and crew safety thus leading to increased protection from unwarranted controversies.


• Response to public inquiry throughout a production’s distribution life

• Assistance as liaison with media, regulatory agencies and individuals requesting information concerning the animal action.

Housing and General Care Guidelines

The DSPCA’S Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media apply to anyone bringing an animal to the filming location, whether the animal is working or not.

Animals coming from different facilities and/or locations must be housed in such a manner as to prevent illness and the spread of disease.

When animals coming from different facilities and/or locations will be housed together, they must be properly acclimated and introduced to each other under supervision to prevent any stress or injury due to compatibility problems.

All animals must be maintained in facilities that provide proper humane care for each species of animal.

In accordance with the DSPCA’s guidelines, facilities for shelter and protection should be:

• Safe from sharp objects that may cause injury

• Temperature-controlled when necessary for the health or comfort of the animal

• Well ventilated

• Located in an area that minimizes stress

• Kept in a sanitary condition

• Constructed to prevent escape

The DSPCA recommends that:

All animals including any background, unscripted animals and animals privately owned by cast or crew members must be provided with the following, both on and off camera.

1. Adequate food and water at the filming location and on set

2. Appropriate protection from the sun, cold, rain, heat, snow and other elements

3. Observation for physical and/or behavioural problems/changes that indicate discomfort

4. When necessary, shelter, warming tents, fans, windbreaks, etc., should be provided.

5. Water: Extras/owners shall bring water in a water bowl/container that is heavy enough not to be tipped over and large enough to satiate an animal’s thirst.

6. Handlers/owners shall make water available to the animal on and off camera.

7. Shade and Shelter: All animals shall have access to shade, shelter and warmth as necessary for that species of animal.

8. Crates or other appropriate housing shall be provided to all animals.

9. Control: all dogs must wear a collar and be kept on a lead at all times or be held in a secure pen, fenced area or crate.

10. All animals shall be controllable at all times.

11. Animals shall never be left unattended or in the care of anyone who is unqualified to care for the animal properly.

12. If any animal appears aggressive, stressed and/or charges, threatens or bites any person or animal, it shall be removed immediately from the set and location.

The DSPCA recommends Proof of License and Vaccination should be provided and that:

• All dogs should be licensed.

• Handlers/owners must provide proof of the animal’s vaccinations as recommended for the species of animal.

• All animals should be vaccinated according to their species.

• The animal must have received its vaccinations at least two weeks prior to coming onto set.

• Proof of vaccination of the name and contact number of the vet who vaccinated the animal must be provided and made available upon request.

• Handlers/owners must have this documentation available on set.

• Animals must not be on set if they are in their heat cycle.

• Dog bites and dog attacks often happen and are often severe. To ensure the safety of people and animals on your set, dog bites to people or to other animals that break the skin should receive prompt medical/veterinary attention.

• Dog bites that necessitate medical or veterinary care may have to be reported to the local animal welfare agency or public health agency. A veterinary examination and/or isolation of the dog that has bitten may be required.

• Any person bitten by a dog should be provided with the dog owner’s name and address and copies of the dog’s license and vaccination records.

Loose, Stray and/or Feral Animals at a Film Location

When a loose, stray or feral animal appears at a film location, production must immediately notify the appropriate animal welfare agency, area animal shelter or appropriate wildlife ranger.


At no time should an actor, crew member, extra or guest remove, take or relocate an animal.

Local animal welfare shelters are best equipped to find the owner or place the animal for adoption or in the case of wildlife, rehabilitate it back to its natural habitat.

It is the production company’s responsibility to ensure the safety of natural animals in the filming area and to consult the agency or persons responsible for the removal of wildlife from location sets.

Wildlife should not be manipulated for filming purposes. Animals may be filmed ‘documentary style’ while in their natural habitat but should never be frightened, corralled, chased or otherwise manipulated for the sake of filming.

Wildlife should never be touched or handled. Wild animals are not trained animal actors and are unfamiliar with humans. Wild animals are known to carry diseases that can affect other animals and possibly humans.

Deceased Animals

The DSPCA encourages the use of animal substitutes for live animals when scenes call for the depiction of dangerous action. Fake animals, deceased animals (or animal parts), animatronics, Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) or other techniques used to simulate live animals should be documented with photographs and receipts.

If deceased animals or animal parts are used and purchased from or provided by a taxidermist, an animal shelter, a slaughterhouse, a food supplier or other source, documentation that demonstrates the animals were destroyed in the normal course of the source’s operations and were not destroyed for the purpose of the production should be provided.

When finished filming deceased animals or animal parts, production should immediately dispose of them sanitarily by cremation or by appropriate burial.

When handling deceased animals or animal parts, care should be taken to prevent the spread of illness and/or disease. Personnel should wash their hands with soap and warm water and/or use an antibacterial agent after handling dead animals or animal parts.

During Filming

The DSPCA recognises unique and/or unforeseen situations may arise that may require on-site judgment that differs from these guidelines. In this instance the animal welfare officer/veterinarian on site should make that judgment in the interest of the safety and welfare of the animals.

The DSPCA should witness all filming with animals in order to properly document their use.

The production company should provide the DSPCA animal welfare officer with adequate placement during filming in order to witness all animal action.

This may include having access to a monitor and/or a production radio or other means of viewing the animal action as it takes place.

Production should provide The DSPCA with two way radios for the following:

• During intense animal action, including stunts and filming of horse racing, rodeo or other intense animal action.

• If the film set is so large that The DSPCA do not have a clear view of the entire area.

• When helicopters and insert vehicles are used during filming.

• If a large group of animals is being used.

As part of standard practice, the production and animal handlers should notify The DSPCA welfare officer of any changes in animal action as soon as a change is made.

When advice is requested from the DSPCA, their representative will act as the animals’ voice on set and will be present for animal safety and welfare concerns and must be included in all safety meetings.

Safety meetings should also include all relevant cast and crew.

When animals are on set, production shall proceed in a timely manner. Most accidents occur when the animals are tired of waiting for filming to begin.

The DSPCA animal welfare officer will closely monitor environmental conditions when there is a potential for severe weather and in such circumstances, may request production, and the animal handler, take steps to protect the animals and potentially remove them from the set.

Animals should never be left unattended or unsecured in a manner that would be unsafe or uncomfortable for them. They should not be left in the care of any person who is inexperienced in the proper care of the animals.

There should be no fighting between animals. Aggressive animals must be isolated and/or removed by production from the filming location.

All animal fights – dog, bull, cock, etc., - hunting and fishing scenes and scenes depicting the death of an animal must be simulated.

No actual animal fight may be disguised as a simulated fight by the use of muzzles.

Aggressive animals should be isolated and/or removed from the filming location by production.

When predator/prey relationships are to be depicted, animals must be trained and conditioned to accomplish the action, or the action must be simulated.

No animal should be put under stress or in danger when used to attract the attention of another animal being filmed.

Predator/prey situations can cause safety issues, put animals under stress and be a threat to other animals, cast and crew.

Adequate exercise and rest periods, as determined by and agreed with the DSPCA animal welfare officer/veterinarian should be provided for the animals during the shooting day.

All animals should be given rest equal to or greater than their time working on set.

Each individual animal’s need must be addressed, taking into consideration such factors as the species, age, condition of the animal, the exertion required to accomplish the action and the terrain, climate and weather conditions.

The DSPCA animal welfare officer/veterinarian should be given leave to observe and monitor the animal’s respiration rate and behaviour. If an animal becomes fatigued or stressed, a rest period should be provided before proceeding with additional takes. The DSPCA reserve the right to have animals removed that do not appear fit.

No animal should be allowed to become overheated, hypothermic or put at risk in any way.

The information contained above is a set of general recommendations and guidelines and we thank you for taking the time and for having the interest to study it.

If you require more detailed information or would like the DSPCA to advise/be present on set/location regarding and to ensure the humane and compassionate treatment of animals, then please contact Gillian Bird, DSPCA. Email me at gillian.bird@dspca.ie. We are happy to discuss your production’s individual and specific needs and requirements.



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