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Who Ensures That "No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of This Film"?

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That’s the work of the American Humane Association, who actually trademarked the phrase. The AHA first set up a committee to investigate abuse of animal actors in the early 20th century, when the horses used in many Western films were at risk for injury on the set. During filming of the 1939 movie Jesse James, a horse and its stuntman rider were sent over a 70-foot cliff into a river. The stuntman just lost his hat, but the horse broke its back and died. Spurred by public outrage, the AHA gained - through an agreement with the Screen Actors Guild and the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association (now the Motion Picture Association of America) - the authority to monitor all animal action and care on movie sets.

Through a combination of filmmaking guidelines, certified on-set safety reps and detailed production reviews, their Los Angeles-based Film & TV Unit ensures the welfare of animals used in movies, TV shows, commercials, direct-to-video projects and music videos.

Guidelines

The AHA outlines their standards of animal care in their “Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media.” The guide contains some things that seem obvious - “productions should only use animal handlers who are knowledgeable about the species of animal to be used and familiar with set protocol” - and some stuff that’s less so - “no alcohol shall be used around animals at any time,” and, “when appropriate, non-skid boots on livestock shall also be used.”

Non-actor animals, such as unscripted animals that appear in the background of scenes and pets brought on set by the cast and crew members, are also assured water, food and other things to keep them comfortable. Even feral or stray animals that wander onto set get the AHA’s protection: the guidelines state that animal control should be called for removal, rather than the animal just being chased off by a production assistant.

On-Set Reps

On-call Certified Animal Safety Representatives drawn from candidates with a background in animal-related work, like veterinary technicians, animal trainers and zookeepers, are the Film & TV Unit’s boots on the ground. They work on the set to monitor the care and treatment of animals, and work with animal trainers, set designers, propmasters and actors to ensure the guidelines are met.

For 2010’s True Grit, for example, a safety rep worked closely with the production for several scenes involving the horse ridden by the character Mattie Ross. For a scene where the horse swims across a river, numerous safety precautions were taken. Trainers prepared four horses, all specially trained and well-rehearsed at swimming, for the stunt. They cleared the river of debris and had four safety boats ready and waiting in the river to quickly pull the horses out if anything went wrong.

Another scene, where the horse is ridden to exhaustion, collapses and is then killed, was carefully shot over the course of three months. Multiple horses were again used, and all were taught to “collapse” safely on a mat. The safety rep ensured that the animals were on the ground for only as long as they were comfortable. For the rest of the ground shots, a fake horse took the live animal’s place so the human actors could continue the scene without stressing the horses.

Movie Night

Eligibility for the “No Animals Were Harmed” disclaimer is finally decided once principal photography and production are done. The AHA screens the finished product prior to its release to make sure the animal action depicted in the final cut is what the safety reps actually saw on set.

The certification “No Animals Were Harmed” doesn’t always literally mean that no animals were harmed during production, though. A production earns the certification if it meets or exceeds AHA's guidelines for the care and handling of its animals. If an animal is injured or killed while AHA guidelines were being followed, the production can still get the certification and use the disclaimer in the film and its promotion.

Don't Believe Everything You Read in the Credits

Some movies have used the “No Animals Were Harmed” disclaimer without earning it and without permission from the AHA. When this happens, the AHA sends studios and distributors connected to the productions a cease-and-desist letter that demands the unauthorized disclaimers be removed from the theatrical and DVD releases of the movies.

Unauthorized use of the disclaimer isn’t going to fool the whole audience, though. The AHA provides the disclaimer and/or a rating for each production they work with on their website. The rating system goes like this:

Monitored: Acceptable — Safety Representatives were not able to monitor every scene in which animals appeared. However, American Humane Association oversaw significant animal action filmed in compliance with our PA-FILM-guidelines. After screening the finished product and cross-checking all animal action supervised during production, we acknowledge that the filmmakers have cooperated fully with our process.
*
Monitored: Special Circumstances — Production followed American Humane Association’s PA-FILM-guidelines and cooperated with the protective measures enforced by our Certified Animal Safety Representatives™, an accident, injury or death involving an animal occurred during the course of filming. A full investigation revealed that the incident was not a result of negligence or malice on the part of the production or animal suppliers.
*
Monitored: Unacceptable — Production failed to adhere to our Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media or disregarded animal safety leading to improper animal safety and directly caused the injury or death of an animal.
*
Not Monitored: Production Compliant — Safety Representatives were unable to directly supervise the animal action due to limited resources and/or scheduling conflicts. The production complied with all registration requirements, however, submitting a shooting script and relevant animal scheduling information, and provided a pre-release screening of the film as requested by American Humane Association.
*
Not Monitored — The production did not seek monitoring oversight from American Humane Association’s Safety Representatives during filming. We cannot attest to the treatment of the animal actors or know whether our Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media were followed.

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Big Questions
What Does the Sergeant at Arms Do?
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

In 1981, shortly after Howard Liebengood was elected the 27th Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate, he realized he had no idea how to address incoming president-elect Ronald Reagan on a visit. “The thought struck me that I didn't know what to call the President-elect,'' Liebengood told The New York Times in November of that year. ''Do you call him 'President-elect,' 'Governor,' or what?” (He went with “Sir.”)

It would not be the first—or last—time someone wondered what, exactly, a Sergeant at Arms (SAA) should be doing. Both the House and the Senate have their own Sergeant at Arms, and their visibility is highest during the State of the Union address. For Donald Trump’s State of the Union on January 30, the 40th Senate SAA, Frank Larkin, will escort the senators to the House Chamber, while the 36th House of Representatives SAA, Paul Irving, will introduce the president (“Mister [or Madam] Speaker, the President of the United States!”). But the job's responsibilities extend far beyond being an emcee.

The Sergeants at Arms are also their respective houses’ chief law enforcement officers. Obliging law enforcement duties means supervising their respective wings of the Capitol and making sure security is tight. The SAA has the authority to find and retrieve errant senators and representatives, to arrest or detain anyone causing disruptions (even for crimes such as bribing representatives), and to control who accesses chambers.

In a sense, they act as the government’s bouncers.

Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin escorts China's president Xi Jinping
Senat Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin (L) escorts China's president Xi Jinping during a visit to Capitol Hill.
Astrid Riecken, Getty Images

This is not a ceremonial task. In 1988, Senate SAA Henry Giugni led a posse of Capitol police to find, arrest, and corral Republicans missing for a Senate vote. One of them, Republican Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon, had to be carried to the Senate floor to break the filibustering over a vote on senatorial campaign finance reform.

While manhandling wayward politicians sounds fun, it’s more likely the SAAs will be spending their time on administrative tasks. As protocol officer, visits to Congress by the president or other dignitaries have to be coordinated and escorts provided; as executive officer, they provide assistance to their houses of Congress, with the Senate SAA assisting Senate offices with computers, furniture, mail processing, and other logistical support. The two SAAs also alternate serving as chairman of the Capitol Police board.

Perhaps a better question than asking what they do is pondering how they have time to do it all.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What Makes a Cat's Tail Puff Up When It's Scared?
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iStock

Cats wear their emotions on their tails, not their sleeves. They tap their fluffy rear appendages during relaxing naps, thrash them while tense, and hold them stiff and aloft when they’re feeling aggressive, among other behaviors. And in some scary situations (like, say, being surprised by a cucumber), a cat’s tail will actually expand, puffing up to nearly twice its volume as its owner hisses, arches its back, and flattens its ears. What does a super-sized tail signify, and how does it occur naturally without help from hairspray?

Cats with puffed tails are “basically trying to make themselves look as big as possible, and that’s because they detect a threat in the environment," Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. The “threat” in question can be as major as an approaching dog or as minor as an unexpected noise. Even if a cat isn't technically in any real danger, it's still biologically wired to spring to the offensive at a moment’s notice, as it's "not quite at the top of the food chain,” Delgado says. And a big tail is reflexive feline body language for “I’m big and scary, and you wouldn't want to mess with me,” she adds.

A cat’s tail puffs when muscles in its skin (where the hair base is) contract in response to hormone signals from the stress/fight or flight system, or sympathetic nervous system. Occasionally, the hairs on a cat’s back will also puff up along with the tail. That said, not all cats swell up when a startling situation strikes. “I’ve seen some cats that seem unflappable, and they never get poofed up,” Delgado says. “My cats get puffed up pretty easily.”

In addition to cats, other animals also experience piloerection, as this phenomenon is technically called. For example, “some birds puff up when they're encountering an enemy or a threat,” Delgado says. “I think it is a universal response among animals to try to get themselves out of a [potentially dangerous] situation. Really, the idea is that you don't have to fight because if you fight, you might lose an ear or you might get an injury that could be fatal. For most animals, they’re trying to figure out how to scare another animal off without actually going fisticuffs.” In other words, hiss softly, but carry a big tail.

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