There is no defending the fact that at this time of year I have—on multiple occasions, of my own accord, and without any children present—watched the talking-dog movie Snow Buddies, but let me try to explain. It’s a Disney film starring five golden retriever puppies (the titular buddies) with the inexplicable ability to move their canine lip-flaps into the complex articulations necessary to speak human English. These linguistically talented pups accidentally end up on a cargo plane headed for Alaska, where they make friends with a similarly verbal Siberian Husky pup—voiced by Dylan Sprouse, brother to Riverdale’s Cole Sprouse—and enter a dog sled race where the stakes are higher than a trophy.
Look, puppies are cute, and it’s a snow-filled, seasonally appropriate film. But then Snow Buddies led me to the even more seasonally appropriate Santa Buddies (in which the dogs must save “Christmas magic”), which led me to the rest of the straight-to-DVD Buddies enterprise: Air Buddies, Space Buddies, Spooky Buddies, Treasure Buddies, and Super Buddies. There are so very many ways for talking puppies to engage in heroic hijinks, and now I have watched them all—mostly during the holiday doldrums or else when my insides were being evacuated by the flu. Puking my guts out? Guess it’s time to watch Treasure Buddies.
There is just something utterly comforting about the fact that a professional film crew had to stand around taking meticulously set up shots of puppies sitting there, staring at treats held off-screen, just so that a team of high-paid Hollywood CGI experts could then make those puppies appear to realistically move their mouths. Can you just imagine the voice actors who spent hours in sound booths trying to nail the puppy voices and deliver just the right inflection in lines such as, “If we don’t find a warm place soon, we’ll all turn into puppy-cicles”?
Recently, though, while contemplating the vaguely entertaining absurdity of the Buddies oeuvre, I made a genuinely horrifying discovery. The kind of horrifying that necessarily involves dead dogs. How do I say it? In the process of filming Snow Buddies, a bunch of puppies were killed.
A quick Google search brought up a Complex article from 2016 in which Andrew Gruttadaro reported that Snow Buddies’ producers “purchased 25 golden retriever puppies” from a commercial breeder for the film. On the first day of filming, a representative from the American Humane Association (AHA) showed up on set to find that 15 dogs were ill. “They were eventually diagnosed with giardia and coccidia, a parasitic disease common among young dogs,” writes Gruttadaro. Some of the dogs were put on IV drops in between scenes. It gets worse:
Movies are generally required to only use dogs eight weeks or older, primarily because of the health complications that can arise if a puppy is separated from its mother earlier than that. The AHA found that the Snow Buddies dogs were just six weeks old—in violation of the USDA’s Animal Welfare Act—making them extremely vulnerable to illness. What’s worse, the lower mainland of Vancouver, where Snow Buddies was filming, had been experiencing an outbreak of parvovirus—another highly contagious virus that often preys on puppies—for at least six months before cameras started rolling. As many as six puppies fell ill to that particular virus. The production team behind Snow Buddies had, whether they realized it or not, basically fashioned their set into a death trap, and thrown a bunch of animals with underdeveloped immune systems into it.
He explains that “three dogs were euthanized due to intestinal complications” and “the death total rose to five when two other puppies perished.” Ultimately, the AHA labeled Snow Buddies’ handling of these puppies “unacceptable.”
Previously, Snow Buddies had presented a quandary of taste: Who the fuck watches a talking-dog movie—even ironically, even during the holiday, even while puking one’s guts out? Now it was a moral one: Who the fuck watches talking-dog movies stained with the blood of little baby puppies? Especially around the holidays. Not I, was the answer. Which is how my repeated viewing of this film came to a forever end.
R.I.P. to those dogs, and to this very bad film!