Fern Levitt, director of “Sled Dogs”

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Fern Levitt—the director of “Sled Dogs,” a documentary that provides a behind-the-scenes examination of both the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and commercial operations in Canada and the U.S. that provide opportunities for recreational dog sledding—recalls how one of those recreational outings she took with her husband, including seeing that the dogs are kept outside and chained nearly 24/7, planted the seeds of the film. sethsachsonAn experienced filmmaker, Levitt recalls embarking on a careful journey of research into the dog sled world, an undertaking that dovetailed with the grim news breaking about a sledding operation in Whistler that decided the solution to being severely financially strapped at the end of the season was to kill 100 dogs. Levitt explains that she settled on four interweaving story lines—a puppy being trained as a sled dog in Ontario, a novice musher preparing for Iditarod, the sled-dogs-1024x348aftermath of that Whistler, and a dog sledding enterprise in Snowmass, Colorado—to drive the narrative of “Sled Dogs.” Across those four storylines, Levitt notes, a key theme emerges: the horrors accompanying laws that dictate that animals can be considered “property” and, therefore, can be treated any way their owners and handlers see fit. “Sled Dogs” has generated some controversy and criticism (including from the novice musher), partly related to the way Levitt has framed her storytelling—she observes that dogs_1her mission was to present an eye-opening glimpse into the dark world of sled dog operations and the Iditarod, seeking to free the dogs from their chains and get them into homes. She balks at my suggestion that the way she executed this mission constitutes advocacy filmmaking, maintaining that she simply made a documentary. Whatever way “Sled Dogs” can be categorized, it’s already achieved significant results with the spotlight it shone on the dark corners of the Iditarod: Both Wells Fargo and State Farm announced they were pulling their sponsorship of the famous race. (http://sleddogsfilm.com, www.facebook.com/SledDogsFilm)

Southland

ALSO: I spoke briefly with Don Goldstein—the “Talking Animals” official greyhound correspondent–about a surprising decision made last week by Florida gambling regulators that allows a Miami dog track to halt greyhound racing while continuing to operate their lucrative card rooms and slot machines. Unfortunately, as Goldstein explains, this decision results from a singular confluences of laws and geography, and does not carry broader implications for ending dog racing in Florida.

COMEDY CORNER: Jim Gaffigan’s “Animal Lover” (www.jimgaffigan.com)

MUSIC: Rebekah Pulley’s “Talking Animals Theme,” instrumentals

NAME THAT ANIMAL TUNE: We didn’t play Name That Animal Tune today.

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About the author
Duncan Strauss is the producer-host of “Talking Animals,” which he launched at KUCI in California in 2003, combining his passions for animals, radio, journalism, music and comedy. The show has aired since late 2005 on Tampa’s WMNF. Strauss lives in Jupiter Farms, FL with his family, including four cats, two horses and one dog. He spends each day talking to those animals, and maintains they talk right back to him, an as yet unverified claim.

One Reply to Fern Levitt, director of “Sled Dogs”

  1. Unfortunately, in the film, claims made by Stu Nelson, the Iditarod’s chief veterinarian, aren’t corrected by anyone giving the facts. He portrays the Iditarod as an event in which dogs get good veterinary care. They don’t.

    Mushers often blast through checkpoints, so dogs don’t get physical examinations. In some cases, dogs who have been at checkpoints for hours have died soon after leaving.

    Iditarod veterinarians allow sick and injured dogs to race. In a recent Iditarod, one of Lance Mackey’s male dogs ripped out all of his 16 toenails trying to get to a female who was in heat. This type of broken toenail is extremely painful. But veterinarians allowed Mackey to continue to race him. Imagine the agony the dog was forced to endure.

    Here’s another example: Veterinarians have allowed dogs with kennel cough to race in the Iditarod even though dogs with this disease should be kept warm and given lots of rest. Strenuous exercise can cause lung damage, pneumonia and even death. To make matters worse, kennel cough is a highly contagious disease that normally lasts from 10 to 21 days.

    Nelson claimed that 30 percent of the dogs are dropped at checkpoints. That’s inaccurate. On average, fifty percent of the dogs are left at checkpoints because they’re injured, sick or exhausted.

    For more information, Sled Dog Action Coalition, http://helpsleddogs.org

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