Anthony Breznican
March 23, 2012 AT 04:00 AM EDT

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals doesn’t have an official role in Hollywood, but after drawing the media’s and public’s attention to three horse deaths on the set of HBO’s Luck, PETA’s bully pulpit has become almost as effective as a badge. The group is thrilled about the network’s decision to cancel the series, which centered on the action at a Los Angeles racetrack. While the American Humane Association is the independent group that monitors use of animals on sets, PETA has inserted itself into the process through in-your-face publicity campaigns and outreach to filmmakers. Karen Rosa, senior VP of the AHA’s film and TV unit, says the three deaths on Luck (the first two were in 2010 and 2011, and the most recent was on March 13) were accidents and not the result of mistreatment, but PETA says the deaths reinforce its position against using animals in entertainment. Explains VP Kathy Guillermo, ”Our Los Angeles office works all the time with the industry to make recommendations about how use of animals might be avoided.” In the case of Luck, she claims PETA lobbied exec producer David Milch to use a mix of stock footage and digital effects for the racing scenes, which Milch and HBO deny. ”David Milch has no recollection of receiving this communication from PETA,” says a network spokesperson in a statement. ”No one at HBO has any record of PETA contacting anyone on the production prior to 2012 regarding the manner in which the racing sequences were being filmed.” The AHA’s Rosa says her organization and PETA both aim to protect animals, but adds that PETA reps ”are not on set. So much of where they’re coming from is about hearsay. We are a very fact-based organization. We don’t come out with allegations or opinions.” Still, PETA’s requests are increasingly being heeded: The group’s senior VP Lisa Lange says it persuaded the producers of Marley & Me to make the film’s Labrador retriever a shelter dog instead of a breeder purchase. ”The more filmmakers see things like the Luck [incident] happen, I’m hoping they will use PETA as a resource,” Lange says. ”We’re here to help.”

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