Abuse in Hollywood Extends to Performing Animals

Substantial revelations about what happens behind the scenes in Hollywood came to light in 2017, and the consensus is overwhelming: The abuse must end.

But that pledge must extend to the non-humans used in entertainment.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) license of notorious Hollywood animal exhibitor Sidney Yost—who long made headlines for beating animals with sticks and feeding them contaminated food—has finally been permanently revoked, and he's also been slapped with $30,000 in fines for more than 40 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.

He rented out animals to films and television shows for years while doing business as Amazing Animal Productions, Inc. Since his license to exhibit and supply animals was canceled in 2014, he's continued to work in the industry as an animal coordinator. His credits reportedly include Lee Daniels' The Butler , 12 Years a Slave , The Hunger Games , Ant-Man , Get Out and Fox's Sleepy Hollow , among others.

Just as the behavior of many exposed for harassing women was an open secret, Yost's history of abusing animals was well known in the industry, even after he moved his operations from California to Louisiana and then to Georgia.

So how and why did he continue to get work for so long? And why is he still making a very comfortable living exploiting animals today? According to New Orleans' The Times-Picayune , two of his dogs brought in at least $150,000 in one year.

Yost's appalling track record goes back decades—to settle a lawsuit concerning his alleged abuse of animals in 2002 and 2003, he agreed to relinquish custody of four chimpanzees and cease working with great apes.

Federal authorities found that Yost failed to provide animals with adequate space and proper veterinary care. He also routinely hit a monkey and a lion with a stick. He used physical abuse to control wolves, and his handlers struck tigers with sticks. During legal proceedings, a judge stated that Yost's use of a wooden cane and his threats to use it were "too commonplace."

Unfortunately, that behavior is routine in the entertainment industry. Animals forced to "act" are typically subjected to rigorous and abusive training methods to coerce them into completing stressful, confusing, uncomfortable and even painful acts.

Poster for the American film Rinty of the Desert (1928). Public domain

When not working, they're often kept in extreme confinement and deprived of all that is natural and important to them, including companionship with others of their species and a spacious, enriching environment.

Sid Yost is history when it comes to handling animals for film and television, but it's high time that the industry distanced itself from him altogether. As long as he is credited on productions, Hollywood is still funding animal abusers.

But Yost is no exception in the entertainment industry. Other trainers who supply animals for movies, television shows, and commercials view them as little more than equipment to be rented out. Birds & Animals Unlimited, for example, which provided the dogs for A Dog's Purpose , came under fire after damning footage was released that showed a terrified dog forced into rough water during the film's production. This followed a PETA eyewitness investigation of its facility, which documented chronic neglect.

When animals are no longer considered useful, they may be dumped like garbage, as happened to Chubbs, a chimpanzee who was reportedly used in the first remake of Planet of the Apes .

Just a couple of years after the film was released, PETA investigators found him living in a filthy, fetid roadside zoo. The disreputable Steve Martin's Working Wildlife regularly offloaded animals through a sleazy swapsheet—even offering free bears, wolves, a lion, and a leopard—and has also been cited by the USDA for locking chimpanzees and orangutans in "night housing" for up to 18 hours a day with no enrichment items, denying animals adequate space, and failing to provide them with necessary veterinary care, shelter from the elements, ventilation, clean cages, and proper food.

With the availability of computer-generated imagery, blue screen, animatronics, and other types of technology, which have been used in a plethora of highly regarded movies, there's simply no reason to continue exploiting animals. For example, no wild animals were used in the last three Planet of the Apes films.

Making films without using animals can be done. It is being done.

Lisa Lange is senior vice president of communications for PETA.