Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Dog's Life: Love in the Traces

St. Albans Dog Day Cut from The Underdog Documentary on Vimeo.

From the web site for the movie Underdog about Doug Butler's goal of winning the Open North American Sled Dog Race in Fairbanks, Alaska. This three-day battle pits fifteen of the world’s best mushers on a 22-mile trail. Doug has qualified many times, but never been able to "kick spandex-wearin’ European ass" because, as a farmer, he is tied to the land and his herds. This year is likely his last big shot:

Doug Butler is a quirky old Vermont farmer in a race against time. With his health declining and his dairy farm in trouble, Doug is hell-bent on achieving his two lifelong dreams: passing on the family farm to his son and winning the dog mushing world championships. He's the underdog, but the kind you want to root for. Training fifty canine athletes after a 12-hour workday demands a rare combination of dedication and madness. For decades this has been Doug’s unique escape from the harsh realities of farming, fine-tuning his team through subzero temperatures on a trail surrounding his farm in giddy anticipation of the next race. At the age of 62, Doug is often asked if he’s slowing down. His response is simple and direct, "that’s for old people."

But the deep lines on his weathered face tell the truth: a life of hard labor has taken its toll. In the last five years the Butler’s have doubled their herd size from 300 to 600, but not by choice. As mega-farms with thousands of cattle begin to dominate the landscape, milk prices continue to drop, forcing Doug and his son to increase herd numbers without increasing their staff. Still the farm loses money every month — it's threads of control steadily unwinding.

It’s clear that maintaining a fifty dog team and running a family farm have both become unsustainable — pushing Doug’s body and business to the brink of failure. Yet the man refuses to quit. This year, Doug is determined to not only continue, but to both win the dogsledding world championships and pass off a viable family farm to his son. He’s the underdog, but he doesn’t seem to mind. To him, it’s simple.

"We’re gonna be dead longer than we’re alive," Doug reminds us, "so let’s have fun…let’s get her done."

This story reminds me
, a bit, about Donald McCaig's trip to the World Championship sheep dog trial in Llandielo, Wales, recounted in his excellent book, Mr. and Mrs. Dog.  Buy it; read it!

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