Unsung hero checks in to Hotel for Dogs

She doesn’t have a listing on the Internet Movie Database. The odds are you’ve never heard of her before today. Nevertheless, Beth Langhorst has worked on hundreds of productions over the last ten years, including The Dark Knight and the entire Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy.

Entertainment and pop-culture sites tend to narrowly focus on directors, writers, actors, and composers when it comes to covering movies. The Film Frontier is guilty of this behavior as well. However, watching the closing credits of almost any movie illustrates that hundreds of people make a major motion picture possible. Some of them do not even receive a direct credit.

Langhorst is one of the unsung heroes of the movie industry. She watches out for both the smallest and the largest performers ever seen in films. She acts as a voice for those without one, defending innocent members of our society.

She is also one of the few people on a movie set who has the power to say “no” to a director.

As an American Humane Certified Animal Safety Representative, Langhorst monitors the animal action on her assigned productions. As part of the American Humane Association’s Film & Television Unit, her work helps determine if a movie earns the famous “No Animals Were Harmed” disclaimer. In this site’s first-ever interview, I recently had the opportunity to speak with her.

In addition to films, Langhorst also ensures animal safety for installments of various television series. The day before our conversation, she was working on an episode of NCIS.

Hotel for Dogs, opening Friday from DreamWorks, Nickelodeon, and Paramount, is one of her more recent movie projects.

Meeting the challenges of Hotel for Dogs

Based on Lois Duncan‘s 1971 children’s book of the same name, Hotel for Dogs features Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin), a sister and brother who start secretly housing stray dogs in an abandoned hotel when their foster mother (Lisa Kudrow) refuses to allow them to keep their dog.

An unrecognized genius, Bruce invents several Rube-Goldberg-style machines to keep the dogs fed and occupied whenever he and Andi are not around. “He makes a feeding station, with a big train to bring out all of the bowls,” said Langhorst.

To avoid mass chaos and a feeding frenzy on the set, she says the bowls did not contain any real food. Even food bowls without actual chow can still rouse the attention of dogs, though. “The dogs are sniffing them as they go by,” said Langhorst, describing the scene.

The feeding station in Hotel for Dogs

The feeding station in Hotel for Dogs

For a number of weeks, she also helped prepare the dogs to deal with Bruce’s wacky inventions. Not only did the gadgets have to be designed and used in a safe manner, but the dogs also could not be frightened or stressed by them.

Given its plot, Hotel for Dogs often included thirty to seventy dogs on set. “One of the challenges is to make sure that any dogs that have to work together are getting along. No squabbles,” said Langhorst.

A climactic “jailbreak” scene, featuring seventy dogs running through the streets, had to be carefully coordinated. Langhorst ensured that there were no dangerous obstacles for the running dogs and that professionally-trained precision drivers knew exactly when to stop as the canines flooded the roads.

To ensure that larger dogs did not trample smaller ones, Langhorst says that the biggest canines were released first, followed by medium ones, and finally the smallest dogs. “The little dogs put their jets on” to catch up, she said. Despite the large number of dogs involved, she says that filming the scene went well.

During the same interview, I also had a chance to talk with Jone Bouman, head of Communications for the American Humane Film & Television Unit.

“American Humane highly recommends this movie,” said Bouman, noting that Hotel for Dogs earned their highest rating, “Monitored Outstanding.” According to the American Humane site, this means that a Safety Rep was always present to ensure each animal’s well-being, that the film met or exceeded American Humane’s Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media, and that no animals were harmed.

Job requires both animal and people skills

American Humane monitors over a thousand productions a year, but Bouman says that there are actually only eleven full-time Certified Animal Safety Representatives, all based out of Los Angeles. Thirty to thirty-five part-time Safety Reps are also on-call to participate around the world as needed.

With only about forty people in the role, it is “one of the most unique jobs to have on the planet Earth,” Bouman said.

Not just any animal-lover can become a Safety Rep. Langhorst, for instance, is a graduate of the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at Moorpark College. According to Bouman, an extensive background in the behaviors of a wide variety of animals is required. They not only monitor dogs, cats, horses, and the like, but also every other non-human creature that might be involved in a production, including fish, birds, reptiles, and insects.

Even being an authority on all things animal is not enough, though. Safety Reps like Langhorst must have the right kind of personality to work in collaborative mediums, Bouman says. They also need a “thorough knowledge of film and television production to operate in a professional manner,” she said.

Those accepted for the position next undergo an intense education program, including study of the guidelines and field training.

Safety Reps must also be prepared to travel with little notice. Describing a life that sounds more like that of a secret agent than an animal advocate, Langhorst says that she once was “pulled off a set and told to go home, pack, and get on a plane in two hours” to work on yet another film.

She usually gets more warning than just two hours, though – like the time she found out the night before departure that she was going to Alaska for three months. In short, monitoring movies like Hotel for Dogs is a job for the truly dedicated.

More than just a fun movie

Not only did Hotel for Dogs safely film dozens of canines in various capers, but it also contains important messages. Langhorst points out that at the beginning of the movie, the strays “wouldn’t have been lost if they had tags and collars.” In real-life, animal shelters are filled with dogs whose guardians and homes cannot be identified for this reason. By the end of the film, all of the dogs are appropriately tagged.

Bruce (Jake T. Austin), Andi (Emma Roberts), and Friday in Hotel for Dogs

Bruce (Jake T. Austin), Andi (Emma Roberts), and Friday in Hotel for Dogs

Hotel for Dogs also depicts the human-animal bond. “Animals can come into [our] lives, become part of our families, and can even make us live longer,” said Langhorst. The movie shows how working with the dogs helps Bruce display some of his previously hidden talents.

She even noticed that Jake T. Austin, the actor playing Bruce, bonded with the dogs between takes. “There is an interaction there that wasn’t being trained or coached,” Langhorst said.

Bouman notes that American Humane feels so strongly about the subject that they even have a Human-Animal Bond division. “The Film & Television Unit has always been very involved in that,” she said, elaborating that the power of movies and TV represents one of the best tools to convey the message.

Through movies like Hotel for Dogs, “the American public can be reminded that we do share this planet with others,” said Bouman.

Directed by Thor Freudenthal and produced by Lauren Shuler Donner (X-Men trilogy), Hotel for Dogs opens in theaters on January 16.

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Images provided by American Humane. Special thanks to Jone Bouman for making this article possible.