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[Ed. Note: For background, read Out of ‘Luck’ on HBO.]

From Earth in Transition
January 2013

Luck HBO American Humane
Horses in the HBO TV drama 'Luck'

A senior ex-staffer at American Humane Association is suing AHA for having fired her after she reported abuse of horses on the set of the HBO racehorse drama series Luck.

In March 2012, HBO cancelled the series after a third horse died on the set – in this case the horse was euthanized after she had become spooked and had reared up, fallen backwards and injured her head.

Barbara Casey, who worked as the director of production in the AHA's film and television unit, says that abuse was endemic on the set. She says the AHA observed drugged horses, as well as underweight and sick horses, being routinely used for work on the show, and that horses were deliberately misidentified by producers so that animal safety reps couldn't keep track of medical histories. She cites a necropsy report showing that one horse who died during filming of a March 29, 2011, racing scene had degenerative arthrosis and other pathologies that made him "unsuited for use in filming racing scenes."

Casey says that AHA thwarted her efforts to enforce the organizations own animal safety standards, that they allowed HBO to violate the group's safety standards, and that they refused to report abuses to authorities.

The lawsuit, which was made public by The Hollywood Reporter, also names HBO as a defendant, saying that "the production defendants engaged in ongoing, systematic and unlawful animal abuse and cruelty toward the horses on the set of Luck."

In one example, Casey says that after a horse named Hometrader died, the AHA actively interfered with efforts to rectify the situation. "AHA told its representatives not to document [Hometrader's] death because he was killed during a summer hiatus from filming and therefore did not count."

HBO gave Hollywood Reporter the usual blah-blah about how they "took every precaution to ensure that our horses were treated humanely" etc. etc.

AHA has not yet commented. And at this time, Barbara Casey's lawsuit is, of course, simply her side of the story. But this is just one more example of how the AHA keeps going AWOL on its responsibilities.

* Just a few weeks ago, we heard shocking allegations about the deaths of 27 animals who were being used in the making of The Hobbitt. AHA argued that the deaths took place OFF the set in the areas where the animals were being housed.

* In 2011, Animal Defenders International (ADI) released truly horrific video of an elephant being tortured in preparation for her appearance in the movie Water for Elephants. (Again, AHA retorted that they only monitor what happens ON the set, not OFF the set. But the small, less well funded ADI had no trouble getting this shocking video.)

* And in August 2011, AHA hosted a special dinner for VIP donors at which they served scallops, chicken breast and beef wellington.

AHA's signature Good Housekeeping-style label says that “No animals were harmed during the making of this movie.” And they say that abuses didn't happen during the actual "making" of these movies. Sort of like Bill Clinton's famous "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."

AHA calls itself "the nation’s voice for the protection of children and animals." In 1877, when the organization was born, that was certainly true. Today, sadly, it's a joke.