Review: ‘Sled Dogs’ Exposes Work Animal Abuse

It’s easy to fall in love with animals in “Sled Dogs.” It’s harder to sift through the words of dog handlers and mushers — many of whom seem to genuinely care for dogs — and determine just how widespread abuse is in dog sledding businesses.

Filmmaker Fern Levitt says her research began with no agenda, but as she saw more and more abuse, her film took shape, with a desire to shut down the industry and to find homes for the dogs. She makes a moving argument, introducing us to animals that start training as puppies and often end up tied to a short chain – when they’re not pulling tourists or running errands. Even sadder are the cases of dogs being killed when they are no longer useful, such as the 100 animals shot by a recreational sled company near Whistler, British Columbia.

In Alaska, the 1,000-mile Iditarod from Anchorage to Nome is the pinnacle of the sport. According to tradition, the inspiration for the race was an emergency race to deliver serum to Nome, which was on the verge of a diphtheria epidemic. But it was a relay, periodically competing against new mushers and dogs, whereas Iditarod riders use one team.

These dogs are portrayed as elite athletes, born to run, but the film reminds us that they are indeed asked to run a marathon day after day for the Iditarod course. There are disturbing scenes from the trail of the dogs who can’t go any further and have to be taken to the vets at the next checkpoint.

Ms Levitt once took a sleigh ride and, after peeking behind the scenes, brought a dog home with her. It will make you want to do the same.

Bette C. Alvarado