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

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GARY HERSHORN/Reuters/Landov

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
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

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
Who Was Chuck Taylor?
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From Betty Crocker to Tommy Bahama, plenty of popular labels are "named" after fake people. But one product with a bona fide backstory to its moniker is Converse's Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers. The durable gym shoes are beloved by everyone from jocks to hipsters. But who's the man behind the cursive signature on the trademark circular ankle patch?

As journalist Abraham Aamidor recounted in his 2006 book Chuck Taylor, All Star: The True Story of the Man behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History, Chuck Taylor was a former pro basketball player-turned-Converse salesman whose personal brand and tireless salesmanship were instrumental to the shoes' success.

Charles Hollis Taylor was born on July 24, 1901, and raised in southern Indiana. Basketball—the brand-new sport invented by James Naismith in 1891—was beginning to take the Hoosier State by storm. Taylor joined his high school team, the Columbus High School Bull Dogs, and was named captain.

After graduation, instead of heading off to college, Taylor launched his semi-pro career playing basketball with the Columbus Commercials. He’d go on to play for a handful of other teams across the Midwest, including the the Akron Firestone Non-Skids in Ohio, before finally moving to Chicago in 1922 to work as a sales representative for the Converse Rubber Shoe Co. (The company's name was eventually shortened to Converse, Inc.)

Founded in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1908 as a rubber shoe manufacturer, Converse first began producing canvas shoes in 1915, since there wasn't a year-round market for galoshes. They introduced their All-Star canvas sports shoes two years later, in 1917. It’s unclear whether Chuck was initially recruited to also play ball for Converse (by 1926, the brand was sponsoring a traveling team) or if he was simply employed to work in sales. However, we do know that he quickly proved himself to be indispensable to the company.

Taylor listened carefully to customer feedback, and passed on suggestions for shoe improvements—including more padding under the ball of the foot, a different rubber compound in the sole to avoid scuffs, and a patch to protect the ankle—to his regional office. He also relied on his basketball skills to impress prospective clients, hosting free Chuck Taylor basketball clinics around the country to teach high school and college players his signature moves on the court.

In addition to his myriad other job duties, Taylor played for and managed the All-Stars, a traveling team sponsored by Converse to promote their new All Star shoes, and launched and helped publish the Converse Basketball Yearbook, which covered the game of basketball on an annual basis.

After leaving the All-Stars, Taylor continued to publicize his shoe—and own personal brand—by hobnobbing with customers at small-town sporting goods stores and making “special appearances” at local basketball games. There, he’d be included in the starting lineup of a local team during a pivotal game.

Taylor’s star grew so bright that in 1932, Converse added his signature to the ankle patch of the All Star shoes. From that point on, they were known as Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Still, Taylor—who reportedly took shameless advantage of his expense account and earned a good salary—is believed to have never received royalties for the use of his name.

In 1969, Taylor was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The same year, he died from a heart attack on June 23, at the age of 67. Around this time, athletic shoes manufactured by companies like Adidas and Nike began replacing Converse on the court, and soon both Taylor and his namesake kicks were beloved by a different sort of customer.

Still, even though Taylor's star has faded over the decades, fans of his shoe continue to carry on his legacy: Today, Converse sells more than 270,000 pairs of Chuck Taylors a day, 365 days a year, to retro-loving customers who can't get enough of the athlete's looping cursive signature.

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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