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Reality Programming

Most reality programs are NOT Screen Actors Guild productions and are termed Non-SAG. Therefore, they are not required to notify American Humane when animals are being filmed, and as Non-SAG productions, they are subject to the American Humane fee for service. As a not-for-profit organization, American Humane must charge this fee to cover the cost of providing one or more Certified Animal Safety Representatives to monitor animal action. Reality programs typically are budget-conscious productions; however, American Humane encourages producers to consider the oversight of animals on the shows as a priority. 

If the production is working under an AFTRA agreement, there is no fee for American Humane’s services.

NOTE:  In addition to the following, all American Humane guidelines apply to reality shows.

ADVISORY:  The less experienced the animals and the owner/handlers are with working in television production, the more important it is to have American Humane’s oversight. American Humane recommends that productions use more than one Certified Animal Safety Representative, to monitor the animals both on and off camera.

American Humane does not condone the use of private pets for film and television work, whether it is an extra’s pet or a reality show contestant’s pet. However, ALL animals deserve humane treatment and a high standard of care, whether or not they are professionally trained. 

American Humane recognizes that reality programming may use private pets that are not trained for production work, but encourages producers to choose the human contestants with consideration for their animals’ temperament as much as they choose those human contestants for demographic, gender, race, age and eccentricity of personality. 

  • Animals should be chosen for calm, socialized temperaments.
  • The owner’s stress compounds the animal’s stress. An unqualified animal trainer/owner can have a negative effect on an animal.
  • Animals need prior conditioning to perform in the environment of a television production.
  • Do not expect untrained animals to perform tricks or stunts that are unnatural behaviors for the average pet.

3A-1 Production should assign one or more specific crew members with responsibility ONLY for the needs of the animal “contestants.” American Humane prefers that these crew members have experience with the species of animals being used.

3A-2 Animals should never be left unattended or unsecured in a manner that would be unsafe or uncomfortable for the animals. Animals shall not be left in the care of any person who is inexperienced in the proper care of the animals.

3A-3 Camera angles and lighting should be done with a “stuffy” rather than the live animals.

3A-4 A separate, quiet holding area away from the set is recommended for the animals when they are not in front of the camera.

3A-5 A veterinarian experienced in the particular species being used should be on the set or on call within close proximity of the filming location. (Also see Chapter 2, Veterinary Care Guidelines.)

3A-6 Should an animal exhibit aggression toward another animal or a person, that animal should be removed from the show.

3A-7 If animals are to be transported to a location, there should be time allowed for acclimation to the new environment and rest time following travel, prior to the start of production.

3A-8* Animals used in filming require authorization from the USDA and, in some instances, from local and state agencies. When animals are traveling to a different state, they may require health certificates, specific vaccinations and other documentation. Check with all federal, state and local agencies.

*The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the national governing body over animals that are exhibited. Animals used in film and television require an Exhibitor’s License and/or a waiver for one-time use. Production is responsible for ensuring that contestants apply for this license. American Humane can advise the production and supply the application forms.

USDA requirements are as follows:

One-time exemptions for the original shoot

If the contestants/animal owners are not being compensated, in the broad definition of the term, then they are likely eligible for a one-time exemption to exhibit their animals. The one-time exemption is good for a specific shoot (date, time, location). However, with the realization that shooting schedules can be changed due to a variety of unforeseen situations, the exemptions state that filming will be taking place “on or about” the listed date. Also, keep in mind that one-time exemptions are not issued by the USDA “after the fact.” If a shoot has taken place without a one-time exemption, it means the animals were used in violation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). 

If the contestants/owners are being compensated for appearing, again in the broad definition of the term, they are required to be licensed as exhibitors under the AWA, before the shoot takes place. Some examples of compensation include receiving prizes, a stipend, products or notoriety (advertising) that directly benefits a contestant/animal owner’s business. This is not an all-inclusive list. 

Subsequent appearances

If the contestants/animal owners make any appearances subsequent to the taping of the show, they need to be licensed before such appearances take place. This includes, but is not limited to, appearances on news programs, talk shows, programs such as Today and Good Morning America, photo shoots for advertising or publicity, and public appearances. 

Subsequent airings of the original shoot

Once the shoot takes place, the contestants/animal owners have no control over what happens to the tapes and, therefore, do not need to be licensed for subsequent airings. This assumes that, as with the original shoot, there is no compensation. If there is any residual compensation, they will need to revisit the licensing issue.

* Notes a federal, state or local animal welfare statue, code or permit consideration.