By Arnie Zipursky
I have been producing a wide range of content for over 30 years; Children’s Series and Specials both live-action and animated, Documentaries on a wide range of subjects, Scripted and Non Scripted Series, Feature Films for all ages and Music Performance Specials.
The ideas come from everywhere. Writers, creators, colleagues, existing scripts, comic books, novels, non-fiction books, newspaper articles, tv or radio interviews, market opportunities, etc.
SLED DOGS came from our beautiful dog SLATER.
After Fern , friends Charles, Lia and I went dog-sledding in Ontario one weekend, we had so much fun, we said we are doing this every year! How exhilarating to be on the back of that sled! The beauty of the forest in the winter, snow everywhere, the speed of the ride, ducking the low hanging branches and trying not to fall off the sled going around curves at full speed.
But then our guide asked us if we wanted to help return the dogs to their kennels, (hidden away in a field). What a sight. Horrific! Lia couldn’t even get out of the car it was so upsetting. Hundreds of dogs running in a circle around a post or standing there, chained 24/7 when they were not attached to a Sled.
I was asked to take Slater back to his kennel. As I was walking him back to the life he had led for the past 8 ½ years I was drawn to ask our guide ‘what happens to these dogs when they get older?’ I was told ‘we can run them till they are 8 or 9 and then if we can’t find a home for them, we kill them”. ‘How old is this guy’ I asked? He’s about 8 or 9, we probably have one more season out of him’. “I’ll take him” I responded.
That was so unlike me to be that spontaneous. Fern on the other hand would have tried to rescue all 300 dogs on the field that day!
Life with Slater was not what we expected. We did not anticipate how scarred he was from his life as a Sled Dog. He would not be affectionate with us or social with other dogs. However on one summer ‘boys (just Slater and me) weekend trip’, Slater and I did a road trip to the US and one afternoon went for a walk through downtown Flint, Michigan. Slater walked right up to a homeless man lying on the street and laid his head on this man’s shoulder for comfort. As if he knew how tough life can be and wanted to offer his love and support to a fellow sufferer, albeit another species.
When the tragic Whistler headlines hit international attention of dogs being killed due to a slow down in commercial dog sledding after the Winter Olympics in Whistler BC, Fern started to research the commercial dog sled industry to find out the truth. What is really going on and was our experience with Slater and what happened in Whistler isolated incidents or not. We thank Slater for this film and for now educating the public on THE COLD TRUTH ABOUT MANS BEST FRIEND.
Sled Dogs is the first documentary to look at what happens at sled dog operations and the Iditarod once the tourists go home.
Sled Dogs est le premier documentaire à s’intéresser aux opérations commerciales de chiens de traîneaux et à l’Iditarod, une fois que les touristes rentrent à la maison.
Picture yourself flying along a frozen, winding trail surrounded by wild boreal forests with only the whisper of sled runners beneath you and a howling pack of dogs to break the solitude. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why year after year thousands of tourists flock to experience one of the most quintessentially Northern pastimes: dog sledding. This idyllic portrait has been promoted by both the tourism industry and the dog sledding world for decades in an attempt to maximize profits while concealing a sometimes gruesome reality.
Dogs in many commercial dog sled companies are continually tethered to a chain and euthanized when they’re deemed no longer useful. In 2011, the public finally learned the truth after an incident in Whistler, B.C. made international headlines: One hundred dogs were brutally murdered and thrown into a mass grave by a tourism company after an unprofitable season. Sled dog companies along with the B.C. government decried the practice, claiming it to be an isolated occurrence; but animal rights activists maintain that this practice is pervasive throughout the entire industry. As seen in the film, the trial of Dan MacEachen in Colorado will once again bring the sled dog industry into the public eye. Dan, who was the owner of one of the largest dog sledding companies in North America, was charged with eight counts of animal cruelty.
If he was found guilty, the case would spark a much-needed debate about animal rights laws in North America. This is not the first time concerns were raised against MacEachen. In 1988, he was charged with animal cruelty, but the charge was dropped and Dan continued to run his sledding operations until 2013.
“The Last Great Race”, Alaska’s Iditarod, is one of the largest financial pillars in the northern community and is a tradition well loved by mushers and spectators alike. Thousands of tourists flock each year to watch as teams of sled dogs run over a thousand miles across Mother Nature’s harshest landscape.
Some of the Iditarod supporters claim that sled dogs are “canine athletes” and love the challenge of the sport. They claim that sled dogs are born and bred to race and are “different” from other dogs. Animal rights critics along with some former mushers fervently disagree and claim that these statements are used to justify animal abuse and keep a misinformed public in the dark. Sled Dogs is the first documentary to explore both sides of the dog sledding industry. This film weaves together various characters and narratives to explore a truth about the dog sledding industry while posing the question: “Is the abuse seen against “man’s best friend” disguised as entertainment?
Les chiens dans de nombreuses entreprises commerciales de traîneaux à chiens sont continuellement attachés à une chaîne et tués lorsqu’ils sont jugés inutiles. En 2011, le public a enfin appris la vérité après un incident à Whistler, Colombie-Britannique, qui a fait les manchettes internationales : une centaine de chiens ont été sauvagement assassinés et jetés dans une fosse commune par une société de tourisme après une saison non-rentable.
Les entreprises de traîneaux à chiens ainsi que le gouvernement de la Colombie-Britannique ont dénoncé la pratique, affirmant qu’il s’agissait d’un cas isolé ; mais les défenseurs des droits des animaux soutiennent que cette pratique est omniprésente dans l’industrie. Comme on le voit dans le film, le procès de Dan MacEachen dans le Colorado mettra une fois de plus l’industrie du traîneau à chiens dans les yeux du public. Dan, qui était le propriétaire de l’une des plus grandes entreprises de traîneaux à chiens en Amérique du Nord, a été inculpé de huit chefs d’accusation de cruauté envers les animaux.
S’il est reconnu coupable, l’affaire aura suscité un débat indispensable sur les lois de droits des animaux en Amérique du Nord. Ce n’est pas la première fois que des préoccupations ont été soulevées contre MacEachen. En 1988, il a été inculpé de cruauté envers les animaux, mais l’accusation a été abandonnée et Dan a continué à opérer son entreprise de traineaux à chiens jusqu’en 2013.
« La dernière grande course », Iditarod Alaska, est l’un des plus importants piliers financiers dans la communauté nordique et est une tradition très appréciée par les mushers et les spectateurs. Des milliers de touristes affluent chaque année pour regarder les équipes de chiens de traîneau parcourir plus de mille miles dans un paysage des plus rudes offerts par mère Nature.
Certains des partisans de l’Iditarod affirment que les chiens de traîneau sont des « athlètes canins » et aiment le défi de ce sport. Ils prétendent que les chiens de traîneaux sont conçus pour la course et sont « différents » des autres chiens. Les défenseurs des droits des animaux ainsi que certains anciens mushers désapprouvent ces propos avec ferveur et prétendent que ceux-ci sont utilisés pour justifier la maltraitance des animaux et de maintenir le public dans l’ignorance. Sled Dogs est le premier documentaire qui explore les deux côtés de l’industrie de traîneaux à chiens. Ce film entremêle différents personnages et récits, afin de découvrir la vérité sur l’industrie de traîneaux à chiens tout en posant la question : « Est-ce que l’abus que subit le meilleur ami de l’homme, est ici déguisé en une forme de divertissement ? »
By Fern Levitt
In 2010, my husband and I went dog sledding in northern Ontario. I was excited to finally try this quintessential Canadian sport that combined my love for dogs and my love for the wide open wilderness. After an exhilarating sled ride through Algonquin Park, I went back to see where the dogs lived. What I saw was unexpected and distressing – hundreds of dogs all attached to chains several feet long, unable to move beyond their very short restraints. It was an image that I will never forget.
One of the staff members of the dog sled operation then told us that if he could not find homes for 30 of the dogs, they were going to “cull” the ones which were no longer “useful”. I was shocked he would openly admit this. I wanted to believe that this was an aberration and not the norm for the sled dog industry.
That day we rescued one of the dogs, Slater, who became part of our family. He had lived on a short chain for nine years. I put that experience to the back of my mind until a year later. In 2011, international media exploded with a story of 100 sled dogs killed in Whistler, British Columbia. A sled dog operator was losing money and his “herd had to be cut in half”. With cries of outrage from the public, the B.C. government declared that the “incident” was an anomaly and announced they would have the strongest animal rights laws in all of Canada.
Two incidences do not make a pattern, but they were enough to make me curious. I wanted to learn more about the way sled dog companies operated. My research on the industry has spanned close to five years. Under Canadian and American laws, dogs are still considered “property” (with slight differences from state to state and province to province). It is legal to chain a dog continually as long as some kind of shelter and food are provided. Killing dogs is allowed, so long as it is done “humanely”. These laws are most certainly open to interpretation.
As filming progressed over a period of two years, travelling to Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia in Canada and Alaska and Colorado in the United States, four storylines emerged: a puppy being trained to be a sled dog in Ontario, a novice musher and his young dogs as they prepared to race the Iditarod, dog sledding in Snowmass, Colorado (Dan MacEachen, the owner of a commercial dog sled operation had been arrested and convicted for animal cruelty), and the aftermath of the Whistler Sled Dog tragedy. I also researched and filmed the re-homing of sled dogs, as it is an alternative to culling.
I reached out to veterinarians Dr. Paula Kislak and Dr. Rebecca Ledger and others who had worked with former sled dogs because I repeatedly heard how sled dogs are ‘different’ from regular dogs. I explored the economics of running a sled dog company for profit with consideration for the humane treatment of the animals in Whistler, British Columbia.
Most of the public sees commercial dog sledding sites on the internet with pictures of happy dogs. It is easy to believe that sled dogs are different from pet dogs, that they are well looked after, that they “love what they do” and “live to run”. Like everybody else, I had no reason to disbelieve the promotional material.
My film became an open quest to find out the truth about the sled dog industry. Without an agenda, we followed the stories as we found them, filming what was in front of us.
People wanted to believe the myths about the sled dogs, so they could run the Iditarod or own a commercial sled dog business, never really questioning if what they were doing was fair to the animals. They often wanted to see their industry through rose-coloured glasses, ignoring testimony from experts because they wanted to continue their dream and their livelihood. But all too often, the treatment of many dogs in the sled dog industry is both cruel and inhumane. Keeping dogs chained, having them live outside, and forcing them to run miles on end is against the basic nature of these animals. Sled dogs are no different than all other dogs. They need the same care and conditions that all dogs need in order to thrive.
“To my mind, I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.” – Mahatma Gandhi