Director Fern Levitt brought Sled Dogs to the film festival circuit in 2016 both wowing and shocking audiences.
Now the documentary, which took home awards from the Whistler Film Festival for exposing the dark side of the sport and dogsledding business, is available on Amazon Prime and Plex platforms.
Groups like PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, hope more people will see it as the iconic Iditarod race prepares to run this March in Alaska.
“The explosive documentary reveals the shocking, secret practices of mushers and trainers from Alaska, Colorado, and Canada who use whatever means necessary to force dogs to pull sleds for tourists and compete in gruelling races like the Iditarod,” PETA said in a recent statement.
Some have called the documentary the “Blackfish of the dogsledding industry” for going behind the scenes to show what it takes to get dogs on track — or what happens to them off the track.
Dog owners, mushers and those who work in the industry defend their practises and love for their animals. The world-famous Iditarod maintains dogs are watched closely by veterinarians and everyone involved is committed to animal care.
“The dogs that run the Iditarod are some of the greatest athletes on the planet, and the continuum of canine care provided during the race and beyond is the top priority of everyone involved,” race organizers note on the Iditarod website.
But that doesn’t stop the criticism.
Dozens of dogs have died during the Iditarod race over the years. Dozens more have had to stop mid-race due to injury. A Whistler, B.C. dog sled company came under fire in 2010 after it was revealed almost 60 sled dogs were killed in a mass cull after the the Winter Olympics once the industry slowed down.
That was the same year Levitt had her first experience with the activity.
“In 2010, my husband and I went dog sledding in northern Ontario,” she explained. “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.
Later, a staff member told Levitt they needed to find homes for 30 dogs or they would be culled.
The couple brought home one such dog, Slater. Both events sent Levitt on the journey to make the film.
Still, the industry remains both beloved and criticized. And, Sled Dogs is not for the faint of heart.
“Sled Dogs shines a spotlight on the dogs who are chained 24/7 in all weather extremes, forced to run until their bodies break down, and killed if they don’t measure up,” PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman said in a statement. “PETA encourages everyone to watch this must-see film and never support the Iditarod or any outfit that forces miserable, abused dogs to pull people on sleds.”