About the worst news imaginable for Alaska dog mushers was coming out of Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, on Sunday.
“Sled Dogs,” the documentary that takes issue with the sled-dog industry in general and Alaska’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in particular tied for the honor of top documentary at the Whistler Film Festival.
It’s a Christmas nightmare for those who thought the film so slanted they threatened legal action to try to stop its premiere. What they got instead was pretty much the opposite.
“The World Documentary Award sponsored by Super Channel was a tie between “Sled Dogs” directed by Fern Levitt and “The Will To Fly” directed by Katie Bender and Leo Baker,” a press release reported. “The jury deliberated and had a hard time picking a winner but there was consensus on the top three films. In the end, they chose to give honourable mention to “Mr. Zaritsky on TV” and the award for the Best Documentary at the Whistler Film Festival is a tie between “The Will To Fly” and “Sled Dogs.”
Several Canadian sled-dog tour businesses said they were going to file suit to try to stop the premiere of the movie in Whistler, a popular Canadian ski resort north of Vancouver.
“I threatened legal action because no one from the film had talked with me, seen my kennel or met my dogs,” Megan Routley of Kingmik Dogsled Tours told the CBC.
Festival sponsors said they were going ahead with the premiere no matter the threats, and no one every filed suit.
There were reports the Iditarod also contacted director Fern Levitt and threatened legal action, but those reports could not be confirmed. The Iditarod’s legal counsel refused comment when questioned. The Iditarod was known to be investigating whether Levitt acted unethically in trying to obtain permission from the Iditarod Trail Committee to film the race start and finish.
Levitt, in an interview with craigmedred.news, denied any wrongdoing. She defended her film as a fair representation of what goes on in the sled-dog industry, though it might be more accurate to say it is a fair representation of the worst of what goes on in a business that has historically had problems.
Mushers say the issue they have with the movie, which few have as yet seen, is that it blames all for the sins of a few. Mushers have been raising a storm on social media and in alternative media where numerous testimonials to the sled-dog business are now sprouting.
Sylvia Currie, a canine trainer and adoption consultant at Angels Animal Rescue Society about 100 miles east of Whistler, came to the defense of sled-dog operators on Saturday. Many sled dogs do live different lives than the average family dog, she said, but that doesn’t mean they lead worse lives.
“They are not taught to sit, stay, shake a paw, and keep 4 paws on the ground around people. They do not suffer from hip dysplasia, breathing problems, skin disorders or any other issues commonly reported about dog breeders. They are not Christmas presents for children,” she wrote on her website.
“They are trained to live cooperatively in a large kennel of dogs and to pull sleds.Some social media enthusiasts appear to be against having dogs pull sleds altogether, and picked up quickly on the #pullyourowndamnsled hashtag. What are the reasons? And what next? Don’t make border collies herd sheep?”
Currie also defended tethering or what Levitt, who thinks the retention method inhumane, calls chaining.
“…Here’s what I have to say about tethered sled dogs,” Currie wrote “I’m 1000 times more concerned about a single tethered dog outside a family home than I am with a yard full of sled dogs. The sled dogs I’ve been in contact with at various kennels are close enough to ‘mingle’ without need for concern about spats, and have awareness of their range allowing for 360 degree movement without reaching the end of their chain.
“Is tethering any worse than crating 8 – 10 hours per day, a common practice among dog owners? Is having a single dog in your home better than a group living environment? These are the types of questions I ask myself.”
CORRECTION: The original headline on this story was changed within an hour of publication to make it clear the film was declared a winner by the Whistler Film Festival and not craigmedred.news, which has yet to view the film. The original headline was “Sled Dogs” a Winner.