The secrets of sled dogs revealed
As winter continues to bring cold and snow to the city, it reminds us of the distant Alaskan tradition of the Iditarod, the last great race. On this 1,000 mile journey through Alaska, from Anchorage to Nome, the world’s sportiest dogs take mushers through mountains across tundra in less than two weeks. The annual tradition is enjoyed by fans across the country and is treated as a Super Bowl-like sporting event. In the documentary “Sled Dogs”, director Fern Levitt and producer Arnie Zipursky reveal what happens behind the scenes of this event. What is shown shines a light on the inhumane treatment of sled dogs and causes the audience to question the ethics of all mushers.
A running motif throughout the film is a chain revolving around a pole. This is often seen on sled dog farms where the dogs are chained to a post for their entire lives. The creatures are shown desperately circling in an attempt to burn off some of the energy they’ve been forced to bottle up all their lives. In some states, it’s legal to keep your dog tied to a chain indefinitely as long as the chain is at least 6 feet long. This is just one of the inhuman laws that Levitt criticizes in his film. When brought to the screen by Levitt, there seems to be no argument that massive changes need to take place in the way sled dogs are bred and trained. Despite the clearly inhumane treatment, the film shows through town hall meetings that the government has no desire to change the current state of the dog sledding industry.
In his film, Levitt interviewed and exposed individuals who abuse their sled dogs. When asked about the rigorous training sled dogs are required to undergo, owners have often responded with the mindset that their dogs are more of a machine than an animal. Trainers would also say that their dogs love to run despite the fact that dogs cannot consent to the hard work they endure. In “Sled Dogs,” Levitt set out to prove that a 1,000-mile race is too much for any dog to handle, and by the end of the movie, I was undoubtedly convinced.
The consequences of far more heinous crimes, including the senseless slaughter of hundreds of dogs, are also shown in this film. I was shocked that atrocities of this magnitude could go unnoticed for so long, especially since an investigation took place in Colorado. I was even more appalled that the abuser was only convicted because he killed his dogs in a way that was not approved by the government. Levitt reveals to his audience that sled dogs are legally only the property of their owners in this revealing film.
The content depicted in this documentary is heartbreaking, but “Sled Dogs”, for the sake of thousands of abused dogs, is a much needed film. Changing the way sled dogs are treated will not be an easy task, but by opening people’s eyes to the truth, change will be made possible. As a dog lover, I was troubled by what the film revealed, but I’m also glad there are people like Fern Levitt standing up to those who harm our innocent furry friends.