April 23, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Hollywood has found a new scapegoat: the family pet. Last month, a flattened feline — crushed by sexually clumsy Matthew McConaughey in EDtv — followed in the hobbled footsteps of the body-casted pooch in There’s Something About Mary. There’s also a recent Outpost.com TV commercial, in which a gerbil is cannonballed into a wall. And later this month, David Spade’s kidnapped terrier takes a spin in a clothes dryer in Lost and Found. This and other pet bashing has animal rights activists ready to rap audiences on the nose with a newspaper. ”It confounds me,” says Gretchen Wyler, founder and president of the Ark Trust, a pro-animal media watchdog group that publishes the Foe Paw Report, listing TV shows, films, articles, and ads that portray animals negatively. ”For those of us who want to promote the care and respect of animals, this is flying in our face.” But don’t expect the outcry to keep filmmakers from finding new ways to skin a cat — or anything else fluffy. ”If, God forbid, anything happened to my dog, I’d flip,” says Lost and Found producer Andrew Kosove. ”At the same time, when you see it up on screen, you think, ‘Oh, God, this is funny!”’ Note to Frasier‘s Eddie: Stay off the balcony.

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