Why did oil magnate sink $2 million into film getting .0001% of the gate?
SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota––Debuting in just 27 theaters nationwide, grossing $10,700 in box receipts, The Dog Lover is unlikely to influence even a fraction as many people as The Secret Life of Pets, an animated cartoon with an avoid-the-pound message reminiscent of the 1955 Walt Disney classic Lady & The Tramp.
The Secret Life of Pets debuted the same week in 4,370 theaters, grossing $103 million.
Funded by oil baron
But The Dog Lover may have the more interesting back story.
Explained John Hult of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, “The Dog Lover was financed by Forrest Lucas, founder of Lucas Oil and funder of a non-profit group called Protect the Harvest, which focuses much of its efforts on opposition to the Humane Society of the United States.”
The Dog Lover is based on a September 2009 incident, Hult continued, in which Hurley, South Dakota hunting dog breeder Dan Christensen’s dogs “were seized under an improperly-obtained warrant as videographers from the HSUS filmed the events.”
Christensen’s facility, D.C.’s Dakota Bird Hunts, also advertised guided bird shoots on 7,000 acres of private and leased land.
Two raids in two months brought lawsuits
The raid on Christensen was led by Scotlund Haisley. Haisley, from January 2008 until February 2010, was the HSUS director of emergency services, after seven years as executive director of the Washington Animal Rescue League in Washington D.C.
Haisley less than two months before the Christensen raid led a multi-agency raid on Pang’s Animal Haven, a nonprofit no-kill facility in Nanakuli, Hawaii, two days after the death of cofounder Bonnie Pang. Her husband Norman Pang had surrendered the 400-odd animals on the property to the Oahu SPCA before HSUS became involved, after the Oahu SPCA requested logistics assistance.
No prosecution in Hawaii
The Honolulu prosecutor’s office in September 2009 declined to prosecute neglect and cruelty charges recommended by the Hawaiian Humane Society, which had unsuccessfully sought to prosecute the Pangs in 1995.
Norman Pang, like Christensen, sued HSUS and a variety of codefendants, including four HSUS staff members and three members of the Hawaiian Humane Society staff. Unlike the Christensen case, however, the Pang case was in mid-2010 settled out of court.
Animal Rescue Corps
Haisley left HSUS after 11 of the then-18 members of the HSUS emergency services team either resigned or threatened to resign in protest against his leadership, according to documents obtained by ANIMALS 24-7.
Haisley later in 2010 briefly headed In Defense of Animals, then in January 2011 formed Animal Rescue Corps, a Washington D.C. organization that he still heads.
The Christensen raid
The Christensen case began, Hult recounted, when “Two young women approached Christensen to ask about buying dogs, shortly before the warrant was signed for the search of his property. Turner County law enforcement appeared days later to collect his dogs, assisted by HSUS volunteers acting on the county’s behalf. Some of the animals died after the raid; others were sold or held in foster care. They were initially housed and examined at the Turner County Fairgrounds, where HSUS took more video footage.”
The Second Chance Rescue Center, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, at the time held the Sioux Falls animal control contract, but relinquished it to the Sioux Falls Humane Society in December 2009, three months after the raid on Christensen’s breeding compound.
“Incomplete & misleading”
Then-Turner County animal control officer Rosie Quinn had worked for the Sioux Falls Humane Society for eight years, but left the humane society to found the Second Chance Rescue Center in March 2006.
Quinn resigned from the rescue center in January 2010 amid allegations that the shelter was infected with parvovirus–the same disease that reportedly occasioned the impoundment of Christensen’s dogs, five days after Quinn found that they “appeared to be okay” during an August 27, 2009 inspection.
“Directed not to disclose”
Quinn did not mention her August 27, 2009 inspection report when she requested the seizure warrants, Turner County Judge Tami Bern found on February 1, 2010. That meant that the warrants were obtained on incomplete and misleading information, Judge Bern ruled.
Reported Hult of the February 1, 2010 hearing, “Quinn testified that ‘she was specifically directed not to disclose that information’ to the court, the judge’s ruling stated. The ruling did not say who might have directed Quinn not to disclose the information. Instead, Quinn pointed to observations from an unrelated April 2009 visit to Christensen’s property to justify the seizure, according to the ruling.”
The Second Chance Rescue Center sought to keep the 172 dogs who were seized from Christensen, contending that the seizure was legal because the dogs were in imminent danger from parvo virus, among other conditions, even though the warrant was invalid. The Second Chance Rescue Center also sued Christensen for $415,000 in costs incurred while holding the dogs.
But Judge Bern ordered that the dogs be returned to Christensen on May 3, 2010, in effect ruling also that the Second Chance Rescue Center could not recover holding costs. The Second Chance Rescue Center board fired Quinn a year later, in May 2011, and filed for bankruptcy in October 2011.
“Christensen sued HSUS, Turner County officials, the now-defunct Second Chance Rescue Center, and its founder, Rosey Quinn,” wrote Hult. “Christensen’s federal lawsuit dragged on for more than five years. He succeeded against Quinn and former Turner County state’s attorney Tiffani Landeen-Hoeke, but his claims against HSUS and other Turner County officials were dismissed.”
Starring James Remar, Lea Thompson, and Allison Paige, best known respectively for performances in Django Unchained, Back to the Future, and Days of Our Lives, The Dog Lover “diverges from Christensen’s story in a variety of ways,” Hult noted.
“Paige plays an intern at an organization called the United Animal Protection Agency who goes undercover to investigate the breeding operation of Daniel Holloway and his wife, played by Remar and Thompson,” Hult summarized. “She finds a responsible breeder. Nonetheless, her employer colludes with local officials to raid and close the operation.
“In reality,” Hult observed, “Christensen didn’t have an HSUS volunteer living and working on his farm. One of the women Christensen said came to his farm to take photos as undercover operatives, Darci Adams, still works for HSUS in South Dakota.”
Why did Lucas make The Dog Lover?
The Dog Lover, based on early returns, appears to be unlikely to be either a commercial or critical success.
Why then did Forrest Lucas sink an estimated $2 million into making it?
Assessed reviewer Glen Kenney for RogerEbert.com, “Some movies you don’t see coming. I’m not talking about movies that you think are going to be terrible or great and turn out to be the opposite of your expectations. I’m talking about movies where you think, ‘Wow, why was this made and for whom and what the hell?’ … I started to watch what I thought maybe would be some kind of heart-tugging animal-centric melodrama and instead got a pretty bald piece of anti-SPCA and/or PETA propaganda.”
Protect the Harvest
The Dog Lover, though packaged as entertainment, appears to be mostly made to advance the same themes and political goals as Protect The Harvest.
So why did Lucas found Protect The Harvest?
Begun in 2011, Protect the Harvest is currently among the most aggressive and best-funded of anti-animal advocacy fronts, raising and spending just under $1 million in 2014, according to IRS Form 990.
Professional Bull Riders
Perhaps Lucas founded Protect the Harvest just to protect the enormous Lucas Oil Products investment in Professional Bull Riders, Inc., whose Touring Pro Division bears the Lucas name.
Some individual PBR stars have also been sponsored by Lucas, better known for his investments in televised motor sports and the Indianapolis Colts professional football team, whose home is Lucas Oil Stadium.
But Lucas, 72, also owns the Lucas Cattle Company, of Cross Timbers, Missouri, and has had lifelong associations with animal agriculture.
“Home was Columbus, Indiana,” Lucas told Fortune magazine interviewer Dinah Eng in 2012. “Both sides of the family were farmers. By the time I was 13, I was showing registered cattle in professional breeder shows.”
From age 15 until after his first marriage at age 17, Lucas lived and worked on a cattle ranch owned by Jacque Glen, a commissioner in Harrison County, Indiana.
Whatever Lucas’ motivation, he started Protect The Harvest in 2011, then in 2014 spun off a so-called “Super PAC,” a political action committee that “intends to raise funds in unlimited amounts,” according to paperwork filed with the Federal Election Commission.
“The Protect the Harvest Political Action Committee told the elections regulator that it intends to call for the election or defeat of federal candidates,” reported Michael Beckelemail of the Center for Public Integrity.
“Super PACs are legally allowed to solicit unlimited contributions to produce political advertisements,” Beckelemail explained, “so long as their spending is not coordinated with any candidates’ campaigns.”
The HSUS Hater
As of July 22, 2016, the Protect the Harvest web site offered a variety of videos and links promoting animal agriculture, hunting, fishing, rodeo, circuses, and dog breeding.
From start-up, Lucas and Protect The Harvest appear to have been especially focused on the Humane Society of the U.S., mentioned three times in the original eight-sentence Protect The Harvest mission statement.
The current posted Protect the Harvest mission statement does not name any specific organizations, but a search of the Protect the Harvest web site turns up dozens of links attacking HSUS policies, programs, and senior personnel.