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Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal portray cowboys who fall in love with each other in ‘Brokeback Mountain’

“Brokeback Mountain,” the controversial film about homosexual cowboys in love, allegedly had a lack of loving concern for the animals featured in the film.

The American Humane Association has fired off a letter to the movie’s director, Ang Lee, expressing dismay over reports animal care and protection guidelines were violated during production of the Oscar-nominated film, claiming it sends “a dangerous message” that the public condones animal endangerment for the sake of entertainment.

“The excessively rough handling of the sheep and horses leaves viewers questioning whether anyone was looking out for the safety of those animals,” wrote Marie Belew Wheatley, president of the group’s film and television unit. “And many also wonder how the filmmakers got the elk to lose its footing and crumple to the ground ‘on cue’ after being shot. They ask if our safety protocols were in place to protect the animals during filming. The answer is: They were not.”

Wheatley said she recently learned that anesthesia was reportedly used on an elk to portray a hunting scene, and noted the practice of anesthetizing animals solely for the purpose of entertainment violates the group’s “Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media,” which is the standard for animal-handling practices.

“Using anesthesia to facilitate filming has been prohibited since 1997 after causing several animal deaths during a production,” said Karen Rosa of the AHA. “Regardless of how it’s administered, anesthesia endangers an animal’s life and health. That’s why we require production companies to find alternatives – like humane training or digital enhancement – that create the same effect without jeopardizing the animal’s safety.”

“Brokeback Mountain” was produced in Canada, so the production company was able to circumvent the AHA guidelines and oversight.

“Filming abroad may be a cost-cutting measure, but the animals shouldn’t have to pay the price,” Rosa said.

The American Humane Association is the authority behind the “No Animals Were Harmed” disclaimer often seen in the end credits of motion pictures and television shows.

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Previous column:

‘Brokeback Mountain’: Rape of the Marlboro Man

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