If you have any fond memories of the 1997 family feature Air Bud, get ready to have your thoughts forever sullied. The dark story behind Snow Buddies — a spinoff film that stars Air Bud's offspring — is anything but warm and fuzzy. While the film was shooting, five puppies died on set, prompting outrage from PETA and an "Unacceptable" rating from American Humane. Despite the backlash, Disney released the film anyway, and somehow managed to avoid a PR disaster.
Almost immediately, there were sick puppies on the set of Snow Buddies. A combination of underage dogs, close quarters, bad luck, and a potentially negligent breeder came together to create a fatal situation. While Disney could have stepped in and halted filming, they decided instead to continue with production, acquiring replacement buddies as necessary. After all 30 of the original puppies had been been affected by disease, the crew was able to score 28 more before filming was finally called off.
Sadly, Snow Buddies is far from the only film to kill animals on set. Still, its macabre production cycle did not receive nearly enough publicity, especially when one considers the fact that Disney went on to make several additional sequels. The crew's complete disregard for the lives of the celebrity puppies forces one to wonder how often such tragedies occur.
In Total, Disney Endangered Over 50 Puppies
In preparation for the shoot, the first group of 25 puppies were purchased from a breeder in New York, who shipped them on a plane to the Snow Buddies crew. To boost their ranks, five additional puppies were then purchased from a Canadian breeder. Despite this, only 15 of those puppies ever made it to the big screen, as the other 15 contracted parasites.
The first signs of trouble came when three puppies unexpectedly died. Soon after this, six more contracted parvo, at which point the remaining puppies were finally taken off the set. While it was a good choice to move the buddies to safety, the decision came too late, as two more died after the change in location.
Unwilling to admit defeat, the people behind Snow Buddies purchased an additional 28 puppies. It was only after those 28 contracted parvo that filming came to a halt. In total, at least 58 puppies got sick and five died.
Disney Violated The Animal Welfare Act
Arguably, Disney's biggest mistake was their decision to bring especially young puppies onto the film's set. At only six weeks old, the buddies lacked the vaccines needed to fight off illnesses. The crew's choice to include the young pups was in direct violation of the Animal Welfare Act, which has been around since 1966, and guarantees animal actors basic care and safety.
On top of it being illegal to export puppies under eight weeks old, American Humane (the folks who issue the "No animals were harmed in the making of this film" stamp of approval) actually advised the Snow Buddies crew against featuring puppies under 14 weeks of age, as the film's location presented a high risk of disease.
The Puppies Were Exposed To Parvovirus
Parvovirus (or parvo for short) is a highly contagious and often fatal disease, that can be particularly dangerous for young puppies. Internally, parvo attacks a dog's intestinal system and white blood cells, which usually results in damage to their heart. Outwardly, a dog with parvo will expel vomit and bloody diarrhea.
Dogs cannot be vaccinated for parvo until they are 6-8 weeks old, making them highly susceptible early in life. After the pups receive the initial vaccine, they should get boosters every three weeks until they are 16 weeks old. There is no cure for parvo, so vaccination is absolutely necessary, as is protecting puppies from the outside world until they are properly vaccinated.
While it was already a risky gamble to feature illegally young puppies in Snow Buddies, at the time of filming, the shoot location was actively experiencing a parvo outbreak. A little research would have made this fact painfully clear, as the area had been battling parvo for six months.
Once parvo has been reported in an area, it's difficult to remove signs of contamination. If the area isn't properly cleaned, the disease can survive for months. To make matters worse, the virus is spread through a dog's feces, which means that parvo can exist pretty much anywhere. In severe cases, grassy areas and carpet need to be completely removed so as to eliminate any trace of parvo. If an individual has handled a dog who showed signs of parvo, it is essential that they disinfect their clothes and body, including the soles of their shoes. Some believe that individuals should dispose of any items that have come into contact with an infected dog.
Because the featured pups were so young, they were very much susceptible to the disease. At least six puppies contracted parvo on the set, and 28 others were treated after potentially being exposed.
Disney Has A History Of Killing Animals For The Sake Of Art
For those familiar with the company's history, it should come as no surprise that Disney didn't act quickly to halt production on Snow Buddies. In 1958, Disney made a documentary about lemmings (the Arctic's rodent equivalent of a Porg), which won the company an Academy Award.
In one particularly grisly scene, a group of lemmings are heading towards a cliff that overlooks the ocean. One by one, the lemmings throw themselves over the cliff, their bodies tumbling sadly down the side of the rock face.
While the calm narration leads the viewer to believe that this is no big deal, in 1982, a journalist figured out that Disney had actually edited together a bunch of footage to create the scene. Basically, the film crew was actually throwing lemmings over the side of the cliff, then watching as they drowned in the sea. Anything to bring drama to one's art, right?