Five mischievous golden retriever puppies
accidentally wander onto a cargo plane to Alaska, where they befriend a husky
puppy who is trying to help his owner Adam (Dominic Scott Kay) get a sled team
together for a dog sled race. Soon the husky realizes that the five puppies and
he would be enough dogs to make a six-dog sled team, and Adam would be able to
enter the race.
American Humane deeply regrets the unfortunate deaths of puppies during the
filming of Snow Buddies. American Humane is extremely saddened by
these tragedies and is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Investigations Department, which is still conducting an independent
investigation into the situation. It is speculated that the unhealthy puppies
arrived on the set underage and already ill. The contagious nature of their
illness and the stress of their journey compounded the situation. Early in the
production, 30 puppies were removed from the set when 15 of them showed signs of
illness, eventually diagnosed as giardia and coccidia parasites. Three of these
puppies had to be euthanized due to intestinal complications. Parvovirus, a
highly contagious canine viral infection, was present in some of the additional
puppies brought onto set, which caused six other puppies to test positive for
the parvo illness and as many as 28 other puppies to be treated (for symptoms
possibly, but inconclusively, resembling those of parvo) after exposure to the
virus. When the American Humane Animal Safety Representative arrived on the set
(on the first day of filming), the puppies were approximately eight weeks old.
However, after initial investigations, it is believed that they were only
approximately six weeks old when separated from their mothers and brought to the
set by the trainer. American Humane’s Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals
in Filmed Media state that productions intending to use puppies under the
age of eight weeks must receive written permission from both American Humane and
the USDA before filming. This permission was neither requested by production nor
granted by either organization. Per the Animal Welfare Act, the USDA does not
allow puppies to be transported under eight weeks of age. The USDA is still
investigating the breeder who allegedly exported 25 puppies under eight weeks
old out of the United States and into Canada -- puppies who might have been ill
at the time of exportation. It is also unclear as to how the underage puppies
were allowed to cross into Canada, since the Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Import Requirements for dogs entering Canada for commercial use state, “At the
time of examination for health certification, the puppies must have been not
less than eight weeks of age.” The required travel health certificates do not
support that this requirement was met and indicate the puppies were
approximately six and a half weeks old upon examination. The breeder was from
New York state and has been charged with fraud by the New York State Police for
falsifying health documents.
American Humane’s Guideline indicating that written permission is needed
before using puppies under the age of eight weeks was deliberately written so
that puppies would not be separated from their mothers earlier or exposed to
unnecessary stress. Clearly the intention behind our Guideline was being
misinterpreted in this case. Unlike most puppies that arrive on a set for
filming at eight weeks old, the puppies had traveled at six and a half weeks old
-- by plane for over 3,000 miles, then by car -- enduring a trip of longer than
12 hours, as well as traveling in cold weather. American Humane will be revising
this Guideline since it clearly does not give the animals the protection they
deserve. We are considering the revision to recommend that no puppies under the
age of 16 weeks should be used for filming and we are making more detailed
recommendations regarding transport. Sadly, experience has pointed out that
unscrupulous individuals will endeavor to circumvent regulations, impelling us
to move forward to avoid the filming of eight-week-old puppies in the future.
American Humane has rated this film “Monitored: Unacceptable” due to the
numerous deaths of young animals and the unlawful and fraudulent behavior that
we believe impacted their fate. Although the producers may have been victims of
unscrupulous people in their hire, American Humane, as an animal protection
organization and the animals’ safety representative, finds the outcomes for
these animals unacceptable.
American Humane would like to acknowledge that the production cooperated in
every way with the Animal Safety Representative’s recommendations, and once the
unhealthy puppies were removed from the set to receive veterinary care, healthy
puppies were then brought in -- using proper procedures and following all
guidelines regarding age limits, vaccinations, illness prevention methods and
other safety protocol -- to ensure that healthy puppies were ultimately used
Featured Animal Scenes
All adult dogs appearing in the film were experienced sled teams that had worked
together. Mushers (human drivers) for the teams were professionals, including
the child actor who played Adam (Dominic Scott Kay). Before filming began, cast
and crew members were instructed on the safety and handling of the animals. All
grounds were thoroughly inspected and slopes were tested for snow stability.
Only necessary cast and crew members were allowed on the set and all were quiet
during filming. Animals were housed in a warm location. Any yellow snow seen in
the movie was made using chicken broth. Whenever dogs barked or performed mild
action, like jumping on an object close to the ground or walking from point A to
point B, they were cued by an off-screen trainer. Before dogs pulled sleds, the
snow was groomed with a machine so there would be no footprint holes that dogs
could fall into. Before dogs ran uphill, the snow was packed to make it more
solid and give them better footing. All food was safe for animal consumption.
Camera angles enhanced the steepness of cliffs and hills, and adjacent roads
were closed off to traffic during filming. All costumes worn by the dogs were
custom-made for comfort.
In one scene, one of the puppies chases a kitten, which runs to its mother, and
the mother cat then chases the puppy. The cat and dog scenes were filmed in
separate shots; it looks as if the dog and cats were close together, but they
were not actually on set at the same time. To get the kitten to run, one trainer
released it at point A and another, off-camera, trainer called it and retrieved
it at point B. To get the adult cat to run, one trainer released it on its mark
and a waiting trainer used a buzzer to guide the cat in a certain direction.
One of the puppies runs across the street and up the ramp of an ice cream truck.
Other puppies follow, all heading into the back of the truck, where they see the
first puppy covered in ice cream. For this, an off-screen trainer cued the
puppies to walk up the ramp of the truck while another trainer hid inside the
truck, calling the puppies. The “ice cream” on the puppy was actually yogurt,
which was deemed safe for consumption.
The puppies’ parents chase after the truck. For this shot, two trainers released
the adult golden retrievers on the closed-off street and cued them to run after
the moving truck, which had a trainer hiding inside, calling the dogs.
The puppies are next seen in an airplane’s cargo hold, where they eat some of
the ice cream. For this scene, the puppies were placed on a secured platform
specially built at window level. A trainer held a food stick just above the
camera to get the puppies to look in various directions. The ice cream
containers were weighed down with sandbags. Different types of “ice cream”
covered their faces -- for example, rocky road ice cream was made using plain
yogurt mixed with crushed dog food.
Two adult golden retrievers sit on the roof of a house, looking out into the
night sky. For this shot, one trainer stood on scaffolding next to the roof’s
edge as a precaution. Two other trainers helped the dogs up a series of
specially made, secured platforms that led up to the roof. The trainers then
placed the dogs on their marks on the roof and cued them to stay. Immediately
after filming, trainers helped the dogs down the platforms and back onto the
ground below. When the adult dogs are seen on the roof later in the film, the
same methods were used, and the howling was a sound effect.
In one scene, the puppies enter a snow cave, seeking advice from a wise old
husky. The cave was made of Styrofoam. Four trainers outside the cave released
six puppies to two trainers shaking a food bowl inside the cave. All action in
the cave was achieved by off-screen trainers giving the dogs verbal cues.
For the scene in which Mudbud stares at his reflection in the ice, the ice was
made of wax and a piece of food was placed on the ice to attract the puppy’s
attention. The reflection was computer-generated.
The puppies walk across a large log lying on the snow. For this, trainers placed
two puppies at a time on the far end of the fake log and another trainer called
them to the other end of the log. The fake log allowed for comfortable and
secure footing because it was made of a nonslip material and had no jagged “tree
bark” areas. This scene was filmed on a set with fake snow covering a padded
mat. Trainers hid alongside the log in case they needed to catch a falling
Throughout the film, the puppies are seen in Adam’s shed in several scenes. The
shed was heated for comfort. For the scenes in which the puppies sleep in the
shed (in a basket, on a burlap bag and on ropes), they were given an hour of
play time before filming to release some puppy energy and tire them out a bit.
Without any prompting from trainers, the puppies all cuddled up together on a
blanket, where they fell asleep. Once they were asleep, trainers carefully moved
them to their marks. The shed was checked for debris and hazards before filming,
and the area around the shed was blocked off with fencing. As the puppies in the
shed are hiding out, they hear a noise, causing them all to look around a
corner. They appear to have their heads stacked on top of each other. For this
scene, a five-tiered shelving unit was secured to the wall. Each shelf had a
wooden safety panel on the back and a safety bar along the edges so puppies
could not fall off. Once the puppies were placed on their respective shelves,
one trainer stood behind the shelf and another stood behind the camera dangling
food on a bait stick and making noises to get the puppies to look in certain
During a montage of the puppies training with Adam, each puppy pulls a log
attached to a rope. For this, the puppies pulled lightweight, hollow plastic
logs attached to their body harnesses by ropes. Upon filming, trainers released
the puppies down a slight hill to make pulling easier. When the puppies first
pulled Adam on his sled, they were equipped with a harness attached to a
gangline, which was attached to the boy’s waist. Two trainers held the gangline
until the director called “action.” When the puppies pulled on the line, the
child actor fell over on cue.
During a snowball fight, one puppy gets smacked in the face with a big snowball.
To make it appear as if a snowball was spinning through the air toward the
puppy, a small fake snowball prop was placed on a special rotating contraption
mounted to the front of the camera lens. The camera itself then moved toward the
puppy as the fake snowball simultaneously rotated in front of it, giving the
appearance of a snowball in flight. The camera then cut, allowing the trainer to
place some Vaseline on the puppy’s face (as an adhesive) and attach fake paper
snow. These separate shots were then edited together in post-production.
Adam uses a welder to create the puppy’s sled. The welding tool was fake, and
the spark was an effect added later in post-production.
Sled teams race. The adult dog teams, who were accustomed to racing, were lined
up at the starting line and cued to run, pulling their sleds and drivers. Before
filming began, a snowmobile created tracks for the sled teams to follow, and the
snow was packed, which allowed for more solid footing. For the puppy team, the
puppies were wearing harnesses attached to a gangline, which was attached to
their sled. Their sled was smaller and more lightweight than the adult dogs’
sleds. A trainer called the puppies toward him, and they ran from point A to
point B while the child actor, an experienced musher, guided the sled. Several
off-screen trainers called the puppies to get them to run and look in various
directions. Closer shots of the dogs pulling the sleds were filmed on an indoor
set with trainers holding the gangline just out of frame. The earlier scene in
which the puppies pull a large empty sled (made for adult dogs) was actually
filmed toward the end of the production, when the puppies were accustomed to the
action of pulling a sled. When two adult teams were racing side by side, they
were from the same kennel and were prepared for the close action, so that no
aggression would occur. The scene in which one adult team appears to cut off the
puppy team’s path was filmed in separate shots. The two teams were never
actually on set together for this part of the sequence. The whip used by a
musher was fake.
When a female musher falls off her sled, the Saint Bernard rescue dog runs to
her aid, licking her face to revive her. For this, baby food was placed beside
the actress’ head to encourage the licking.
The puppies find shelter from the storm inside an igloo, where they rest on furs
and warm up near a fire. The fake igloo was made of wood and plastic. The flame
lamp emitted a “cool flame,” which allowed it to be cool to the touch. A crew
member was standing nearby with a fire extinguisher, just in case. The dogs lay
on fake fur rugs. For the part of the scene in which the husky puppy looks out
the hole of the igloo, a trainer equipped the puppy with a waist tie. On
command, the dog poked his head out of the hole and back inside. To help get the
dogs to sleep, they were allowed to play before filming, and studio lights were
turned off during filming.
Two dogs who appear to have fallen through thin ice are trying to get out of the
water. This was filmed on an indoor set using a shallow pool filled with warm
water. The ice was made of plywood covered in fake snow. Trainers surrounded the
pool. The dogs wore harnesses attached to a gangline held by an off-screen
trainer. Trainers prepared the dogs for swimming before filming began and
assisted them in and out of the pool. The dogs were dried off and given 30
minutes of rest between takes.
Due to late notification or limited resources, American Humane did not monitor
some of the puppy scenes.
American Humane’s On-Set Oversight
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