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'Snow Dogs' Runs Into Heavy Sledding

January 14, 2002

The home of Mickey Mouse finds itself stirring controversy among some animal rights activists for its new film "Snow Dogs," which opens Friday. The $33-million Disney movie, which stars Oscar-winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr., has raised the ire of the Sled Dog Action Coalition.

Billed by the studio as a light comedy, it's about a Miami dentist (Gooding) who travels to Alaska to claim an inheritance, only to find out it includes a pack of sled dogs. Eventually, he learns to mush and leads his team of dogs to victory in a race.

But animal rights activists are not laughing. The coalition, which is based in Miami, says the movie glorifies a cruel sport. "Contrary to Disney's portrayal, the Iditarod [the best-known dog sled race in the world] does not celebrate the bond between man and dog," according to a statement released by the coalition. "Documentation of the race's history clearly demonstrates a pattern of dog deaths, injuries and many repeated instances of mushers harming their dogs for the sake of profit."

The coalition director, Margery Glickman, says the group does not intend to boycott the film but would like to increase public awareness about dog sledding.

"Children will see this film and they will think that the dogs love to race and they are well-treated," Glickman said. "It will be perpetuating the myth that this grueling Iditarod race is something wonderful when it is not."

Studio officials say the PG-rated film does not condone the harming of animals. "The race is not called the Iditarod [in the film]. The focus of the film is the story of Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character," said Disney spokeswoman Andrea Marozas. The dog sled racing is "one element of the film," she noted, adding: "It's a family comedy, not a documentary."

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