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Guideline No. 40: Animal Handling | Safety Guidelines for the Film and Television Industry in Ontario

  • ISBN: 978-1-4249-9952-1
  • Issued: November 1990
  • Revised: June 2009
  • Content last reviewed: August 2010

Animal Handling

The safety of working animals and the persons working with such animals should be a primary concern. This guideline is intended as safety recommendations for the cast and crew on a production when working with or around animals. Specific regulations regarding animal safety and care can be found in other sources. The American Humane Association (AHA) guidelines are not in force in Canada, but are generally accepted and observed by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) , in the absence of equivalent domestic guidelines.

  1. Only designated Performers, Professional Trainers, Handlers and/or Wranglers should be allowed to work with animals on productions. Anyone not directly involved in the action involving the animals should not distract the animals. It is recommended that enough Wranglers be used to ensure that safe control of animals is maintained (i.e. 1 Wrangler/3 action horses). For each large undomesticated animal, such as a large cat or carnivore (mountain cat or larger) there should be two (2) handlers present.
  2. Notice advising that animals are working should be given on the call sheet prior to shooting. A “closed set” notice should be posted on all stages or locations, where animals are working and every effort should be made to maintain a closed set on locations where animals are working.
  3. An easily accessible area should be available for loading and unloading animals. Horses should always be given a clear path to their holding area. The Assistant Directors should clear the set of all animals first, at lunch break or wrap, at which point people will then be cleared.
  4. Once on set, at the animal handler’s discretion, all non essential personnel with the exception of any Ontario SPCA representative(s), should be removed from the set during animal stunts or animal action, or whenever wild or exotic animals are performing.
  5. Cast and crew will not be allowed to pet, fondle or play with animals off camera, if the handler or Ontario SPCA representative believes it is not in the best interest of the animal, or believes it is unsafe.
  6. As necessary for the concentration and safety of the animals, cast and crew should limit distracting motion, noise or smells, such as food, perfume or alcohol. In some cases, Craft services may need to be moved away from the animal action. Animal Handlers should provide the Producer and the Ontario SPCA representative with written pertinent instructions for each species and/or individual animal, as appropriate. These instructions should be attached to the call sheet.
  7. An opportunity should be given to the trainer and Stunt Coordinator to address the cast and crew (including the parents or guardians of any children on the set) about safety precautions while animals are on the set. Safety precautions such as, but not limited to, maintaining a safe distance from wild or exotic animals, no personal pets, no feeding, no running and provisions for escape routes may be included. In the opinion of some trainers, the presence of menstruating women may cause reaction from animals such as large cats. The Trainer/Handler should be consulted in that regard.
  8. The Trainer or person supplying the animal(s) is responsible for obtaining all necessary inoculations, permits, applicable licenses and medical safeguards.
  9. The Trainer and/or Wrangler shall ensure that all animals required to work in a film/set location are well prepared for such situations. The Trainer/Wrangler should train and acclimatize the animals to filming conditions and be satisfied that the animals will perform in a manner conducive to the safety of the cast, crew and general public.
  10. Where animals and Performers are working together in a scene which is deemed a stunt or dangerous situation, ample time should be given to allow the Handler, Stunt Coordinator, and the animals to become familiar with the routine and each other.
  11. When an animal on set poses a potential hazard (horses, livestock, etc. ), there should be a qualified first aid provider on set. Depending on the types of animals being used and the filming location, consideration should be given to providing onsite emergency medical transportation, with qualified medical personnel, up to and including life support, as necessary.
  12. Equipment operated in conjunction with working animals should be in a safe operating condition as determined by the Trainer/Wrangler in conjunction with the property master. Basic animal safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, fire hoses and nets should be readily available.
  13. All firearms, ammunition or explosives safety guidelines set out elsewhere in this document should be observed. Live ammunition should not be allowed on set. Only blank ammunition should be used. The level of blank ammunition loads and explosives should be determined in consultation with the Trainer or Wrangler, or both where necessary, and the firearms expert. All Trainers/Wranglers should be given notice prior to shots being fired or the detonation of explosions around performing animals
  14. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies’ (CFHS) position statement on the use of animals in entertainment opposes the administration of any drug for non-therapeutic purposes in order to alter the performance or behaviours of animals. Tranquillization or sedation of performing animals should be accomplished only where circumstances warrant, upon the advice of the trainer or qualified veterinarian.
    1. Some animals, such as reptiles should never be sedated. If appropriate, advice should be sought from a qualified trainer or veterinarian.
    2. Tranquillizers should not be used for the purpose of “calming” performing animals. A tranquilized animal is unpredictable.
    3. As a safety backup, consideration should be given to the availability of tranquilizing equipment. Potentially dangerous or complicated animal action should warrant the presence of a qualified veterinarian.
  15. On any set, stage or location, best efforts shall be made to secure scenery and props where animals will perform. Objects such as ladders or pedestals that easily tip over can startle animals.
  16. When using horses on set:
    1. Horses being used on a production should be properly shod for the working surface (e.g. borium, rubber shoes, etc. )
    2. All hitch rails should be fastened in the ground so that the tugging of a frightened horse cannot pull it loose (i.e. sleeve installation). On a stage, hitch rails should be bolted or fastened in a rigid manner.
    3. Under no circumstances should horse falls be accomplished by tripping or pitfalls.
    4. No one should ride horses “off camera” except for those designated by the Trainer/Wranglers.
    5. Under no circumstances should spurs be worn by any Actor or Extra without the prior approvals of the Stunt Coordinator and or the Trainer/Wrangler.
  17. Helicopters should remain at least fifty (50) feet away from any animal. Please also refer to Guideline #27 Helicopters.
  18. In productions involving large numbers of animals (e.g. historic re-enactments), a responsible “chain of command” should be established to coordinate the work during the production. The designated “commander” (appointed by the Producer) of each unit should be directly responsible for the conduct of the people and the care of the horse/livestock under his or her care.
  19. Animal actors brought to a location can be affected by indigenous pests; this could range from distraction to life threatening situations or the transmittal of diseases between pests and animals. Notification of the potential existence of indigenous pests in the area being filmed should be provided to the Trainer/Wrangler/Supplier of animal actors.

For more information on animal handling or specific guidelines on animal safety in film and television production, please consult an organization such as the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals(SPCA) or the American Humane Association (AHA). Please also refer to Guideline #41 Indigenous Pests, and Guideline #42 Exotic Animals, for additional recommendations.

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