Review of The Last Dogs of Winter (2011)
The Last Dogs of Winter explores Brian Ladoon’s struggle to preserve the Canadian Eskimo dog, or Qimmiq, the rarest registered breed of dog in the world, from extinction. Assisted by an adventurous New Zealander, Caleb Ross, Ladoon breeds Eskimo dogs against the harsh backdrop of Churchill, Manitoba and fights off polar bears to do it. As a documentary, The Last Dogs of Winter is bit uneven in focus, but the subject matter is engaging, and Ladoon is, shall we say, a character.
I suppose there is a lot to be said about the Inuit and the relationship they had with their dogs. This documentary does touch the topic, and presumes that this is a given. Not being Canadian, but having seen Nanook of the North, I get it. To lose these dogs would be a tragedy and they exist today only through the efforts of Ladoon and organizations like the Eskimo Dog Research Foundation. I would have liked for The Last Dogs of Winter to explore the topic a bit more, but it wasn’t the ultimate focus of the doc.
What I would like to have know more about is the relationship between Brian Ladoon and his Churchill neighbors. Mention is made that he’s a divisive figure in the community and that many people do not agree with him, but it’s all expository and never really depicted. There is also mention made that people feel Ladoon is cruel to the dogs because he keeps the outdoors, at the mercy of the elements and the polar bears. Ladoon offers cogent explanations for both complaints. First, the dogs are made to withstand the harsh Canadian winter. Second, the dogs aren’t afraid of the bears. In fact, we are treated to much footage of dogs frolicking with bears. It’s riveting.
The Last Dogs of Winter also never addresses the question of why or for what the dogs are worth saving. It takes as a fact in evidence that they are worth saving and never addresses the issue of work. Brian Ladoon works very hard to maintain the integrity of the gene pool of Canadian Eskimo dogs, but they remain purposeless in the contemporary society. One suspects that Ladoon had something bigger and better in mind for his dogs (mention is made of running teams of dogs) but got bogged down along the way in the persnickety details of finances and resources.
It’s no surprise that a fiercely independent, abrasive, and obstinate character like Brian Ladoon would have both the gall and perseverance to save an entire breed of dogs. In the end, he strikes me as the human equivalent of his Eskimo dogs - beautiful example of a breed teetering on the brink of extinction and already tumbling in the abyss of purposelessness. If The Last Dogs of Winter winds its way to your area, be sure to see it. Just expect to feel a little sad afterwards.
Watch The Last Dogs of Winter Trailer:
The Last Dogs of Winter director, Costa Botes, wrote a detailed blog entry on the making of the film.