You can’t just slap the phrase “No Animals Were Harmed” onto your movie’s end-credits. Filmmakers have to earn that right, which means working with Certified Animal Safety Representatives to make darn sure animals aren’t abused or exploited in any way on set. David Carroll is one such pro. The Cincinnati Zoo alum is part of an elite crew from American Humane that travels to film productions all over the country, advising on everything from cougars to crickets.
We have safe practice guidelines for every possible animal, which we ask the productions and trainers to follow. We’re not there to stop production from getting their shot. We’re there to advise production on how they can achieve their shot.
American Humane has pre-production out in our Los Angeles office. They’re given a script and they go through and know all the animal action and flag anything that looks problematic.
We’re very precise with what we document. If a dog is running 30 feet, no big deal. But if they want that dog to run it 50 times, then it might become a big deal. Is the dog conditioned for it? Is the dog trained? If there’s blood involved, what are we using for fake blood? If the animal licks it, is it toxic? What are the ingredients? We fix that.
I travel almost weekly. I spend most of my time in big movie cities like Atlanta, Toronto, New Orleans, and Boston. But I’ll also find myself maybe on the coast of Oregon or praying that my GPS doesn’t let me down in the middle of Montana.
I started my career at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden as a zookeeper and assistant cat trainer under the tutelage of Cathryn Hilker, the world’s foremost cheetah expert.
I studied equine science in the farrier industry, which is horseshoeing. I graduated from the Kentucky Horseshoeing school, where I studied equine biomechanics and physiology and how they relate to the farrier trade. In my practice I went on to specialize in performance horses and therapeutic cases. From there I performed as a show host and animal trainer for Birds & Animals Unlimited at Universal Orlando.
My specialties are equine and exotics. You have to have a strong background in animal behavior. It’s essential to be able to determine if an animal is trained to do what it’s being asked to do.
The productions work well with us. I’m on set when an animal is on set—anything from a reality program to a commercial to an episodic or motion picture. I look at a lot of what-ifs: Anything that could be a safety hazard.
Sometimes you’ll get a script and you’ll think Oh my gosh, this looks horrendous, like with a horror film, and the next thing that goes through your mind is All right, how are we going to safely accomplish this?
Not only are we there to protect the animals, but we’re actually there to protect the production. And we’re there to protect the trainers.
We have post-production in our L.A. office too, where the final product is reviewed with all the documentation and reports. When the animal scene comes along, they know exactly how it was done.
We are more strict than you would be with your average home pet. The reason is that we don’t believe animals should ever be put in any harm. We do support the animal-people bond; we think it’s very significant and has its place in entertainment.
Movies with animals can touch people. We believe in promoting that, just in a safe way. We’re the animal’s voice.