Sled Dog Tourism with a Tan

DVD Cover: Sun Dogs

Pet Travel Tuesday

Destination: Jamaica

Film: Sun Dogs (2007), Palm Pictures.

By Pamela Douglas Webster

The Iditarod draws dozens of mushers testing themselves against the elements, their competitors, and their own endurance. Thousands brave the cold to watch the start and finish of the great race.

But what if you could experience the thrill of man and dog working together in a more comfortable climate? Say, in Jamaica?

That’s exactly what Danny Melville of Chukka Caribbean Adventures had in mind when he started the Jamaica Dog Sled Team.

And while you can visit the team in their Caribbean kennel, if your passport isn’t up to date, you can also watch their story in the documentary film, Sun Dogs.

The Tourist's View of the Jamaica Sled Dog team.
The Tourist’s View of the Jamaica Sled Dog team.

Sun Dogs is more than a lark. It’s a story of redemption—the redemption of the sled pulling street dogs, the men who run them, and even the island itself.

The sled dogs are a mixed lot of medium to large dogs who came from the Jamaica SPCA. All had a rough start in life. The Minnesota mushers who taught the Jamaicans and helped them develop their team explained that their biggest challenge was that the dogs were unused to affection. Earning the dogs’ trust and developing their desire to please their people was the first job.

Bruno, the lead dog, struggled with aggression toward other members of the team. But he had the drive to pull. And, with patience and time, he became a strong leader. Diamond, seen in the film struggling in the traces, never made it as a sled dog and became the kennel pet. By the end of the film, the team comprised twenty dogs trained to pull.

It wasn’t only the dogs who had to move past challenging beginnings to succeed.

Sun Dogs also follows the story of teenager, Newton Marshall, who apprenticed to chief musher and animal handler, Devon Anderson.

Newton, like many Jamaicans, grew up poor with very little education. As he proved himself in his work with the dogs, Newton was given the chance to increase his education. To groom him as a musher, he left the island for the first time, traveling to Minnesota to train.

The smiling young man who loved dogs is the engaging heart of the story. And when Newton messes up by taking his teacher’s car for a joy ride and lying about the resulting accident, I think I felt as bad as he did about the consequences of his actions. The film ends with a hint, although no certainty, that Newton would be given a chance to make amends and regain the job that meant so much to him.

Newton’s struggles with poverty and lack of education personalized the plight of many Jamaicans.

Jamaica is recognized around the world for its music, culture, and natural beauty. And yet it’s one of the poorest nations. Despite thousands of tourists arriving by cruise ship and plane each year, the island nation’s citizens benefit very little as most of the tourist dollars find their way offshore.

The lovely scenic waterfall of Jamaica.
Scenic Jamaican waterfall.

Danny Melville’s dream was to do something fun and wild—but also something that brought its own Jamaican spirit and benefitted Jamaicans financially.

That Jamaican redemption narrative created a compelling story, one that I couldn’t resist watching and even researching the cast of characters to find out what happened to them after the film.

Today, tourists enjoy the thrill riding “sleds” pulled by rescued street dogs who learned to work together. The men who train and work with the dogs travel the world in mushing competitions, earning respect for the small island nation that produces strong mushers who don’t need snow to become champion racers. And the country of Jamaica proves once again that it won’t be underestimated by anyone.

Note from ATL: Pamela expands on lessons learned from this book about taking chances. Read it at Something Wagging This Way Comes. And if you are planning a trip to the island, learn more about travel in Jamaica from local expert, Marcia M, at Inside Journeys.

Disclaimers:  The pictures here are from Flickr under a Creative Commons License: Attribution Commercial.  You can learn more about the photographers by clicking on each picture.  Since it is a bit late to catch this in theaters, you can buy a DVD. Links to Amazon provide a handy way for you to shop, and they are also affiliate links, meaning when shop at Amazon through these links, I earn a few cents. Thank you for your support.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

4 thoughts on “Sled Dog Tourism with a Tan

  1. I do remember the story of the team that made it to the Iditarod and would really love to see this.

    “Despite thousands of tourists arriving by cruise ship and plane each year, the island nation’s citizens benefit very little as most of the tourist dollars find their way offshore.”

    This paragraph touched me deeply as I’ve been ranting about this the last few days. It’s the part about travel, especially in developing countries like Jamaica, that I detest. I find myself questioning why I should write about the wonderful things about my country when so many of the workers in the industry make so little and when for so many of the small property owners it’s a daily struggle to stay afloat. It’s zapped so much of my energy, I haven’t been able to write anything this week though now that I think about it, maybe it’s time to put what I feel on paper.

    1. Thanks for your comment, confirming from Jamaica what Pamela talks about in her review. I love the way that Pamelas finds not just the animal angle in the stories of travel, but deeper social meanings as well!

      1. Thanks, Vera. But the social meaning, as important as it is, is just one piece. I truly believe that sustainable travel provides a better experience for the traveler as well as the provider.

    2. Fortunately, every country has creative entrepreneurs. You’re in a wonderful position to bring more attention to local people who share with visitors. It doesn’t occur to many travelers that traditional venues are so exploitative. They need to be educated.

      So don’t lose heart. And keep sharing.

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