Shannon de Bruin, of Arcticsun Kennels in Edmonton, Canada, is the owner of some rather famous huskies. She has provided over the years the canine stars of such well known and loved movies as Snow Dogs, Eight Below and Snow Buddies. Faye spoke to our Canadian friend about her dogs and how they became movie stars.
Faye : Firstly i would like to ask you, how long have you had huskies for ?
Shannon : I started with Keeshonden in the 70’s, and being Canadian of course I hooked him up to a kids sled! I was collecting neighbour dogs for my “dogsled team” and realised I really did need a Siberian. I bought my first Siberian in 1980 and have never been with out both Kees and Sibes since.
Faye : What was your first husky like and where was he/ she from ?
Shannon : I had bought into a couple of Siberians before buying my first one outright. I was involved in purchasing Hawkes mother from Sierra Kennels in the USA. From her I received Arluk’s Cinnamon Sundance HIC, TT, CGC (1984-1998). Amazing and brilliant little girl. A true heart dog.
Faye : How did you know they were the breed for you ?
Shannon : I had met many Siberians at the dog shows and had a friend with a Siberian. I am a spitz and arctic breed fanatic so Siberians were an obvious choice, but it was once I had my funny little Hawke that I knew I loved the breed. And it was once I hooked up my own first all Siberian Husky team that I knew this was a forever thing.
Faye : Did it take long before you caught the husky bug and became totally addicted to the breed?
Shannon : Not long at all. I love winter and all things winter and most of all dogsledding. I was hooked as a kid, it was just meant to be.
Faye : How did it come about that your dogs appeared in films?
Shannon : It started with commercials. I was doing a lot of training with my little crew and someone told me that they were looking for a husky for a photoshoot and commercial. After that I was lightly involved in theater and with one thing leading to another the word got out that I had very trained dogs. We went to a cattle call for Stone Fox, shot in Edmonton in 1986, and from there it went on to bigger and better things. My involvement in training was what really got everything started.
Faye : How were the dogs trained for their starring roles and did it take long to train them?
Shannon : Most of what was done in the various movies was all natural! It took nothing to teach dogs to rip up something, or jump over something or to take a mark (go to a certain spot and wait for a treat). Much of the training is based on obedience commands but we do a lot with our dogs so the behaviours they learned from traveling, being in the house, being in dog shows, pulling sled etc was easy to mould into movie behaviours. And of course camera angles make a huge difference, lol.
Faye : To date how many films have your dogs starred in?
Shannon : Wow, well, for feature films the big ones we have been in are Snow dogs, Snow Buddies, Eight Below, we were also in Snow Day and Shivers. For other films and documentaries there is Arctic Exhumation, we did Animal Planet, Outdoor Living, and a bunch of other small stuff. We have supplied dogs and or worked on a bunch of independent films , docs, commercials and photo shoots.
Faye : Out of all the films that have featured your dogs which one is your favourite and why?
Shannon : My favourite was Snow Dogs. It was a great time, great cast, amazing location. We had a blast. It was fun to meet Cuba Gooding Jr, James Coburn (love his movies) and Graham Green (super guy) but I met Nichelle Nichols! I am a Trekkie, it was so exciting.
Faye : Have you any happy memories or funny stories you can share with us about your dogs on set ?
Shannon : We have had a lot of funny moments, but I think the one that stands out the most was actually a rather embarrassing one. We were filming the start of the race in Snow Dogs with the second director. I had an 8 dog team and I was to run them up the shoot a few times to get the shots. We were on our 4th or 5th time through the shoot and the primary director walked through the far end of the alley. Well it was an experienced and eager 8 dog team, and we were clipping along pretty good… well, as we ran over him I remember thinking, “oh crap, we are never doing another movie ever again”. Fortunately he was not hurt and had a good laugh about it.
Faye : Is it possible any of your dogs could star in future films,possibly sequels to the ones they have already appeared in?
Shannon : There has been talk about a couple of things. We just sent a dog to LA two months ago to try out for a film and we are waiting on news for a small film to be greenlit. I really love working the films but often I am unable to work a film because I am a teacher. Getting the time off is not always possible.
Faye : Did you get to meet any of the film stars and if so what were they like?
Shannon : We have been able to meet cast members. James Coburn was amazing, so full of life and ready for anything, a very “real ” person. Nichelle Nichols, sweet and absolutely elegant, and small! I always pictured her as being about 5’6” but she is maybe 5 feet tall. Lovely lady. Graham Greene was a great guy, personable, approachable, and funny. Emmet Walsh was a nice guy and totally into the dogs. even helped us do chores! We didnt meet anyone on Eight Below and Snow Buddies as I was not involved in filming. I had my own classroom at the time so I could only train and supply dogs for them.
Faye : Which of your dogs were in the films and what role did they play?
Shannon : Apache, Suli, Tupit played Old Jack in Eight Below. Hugo and his half brother Tux played Shasta in Snow Buddies. Bart, Drum and Toro did pull scenes and off leash scenes for Demon and Dutchess. Torch, King, Ayla, Roadie, Topaz, and many others have also been in movies or other work. For Snow Dogs alone I supplied 22+ of my own dogs and brought in another 20 or so dogs for background teams.
Faye : You also show and work your huskies dont you? which do you prefer and why?
Shannon : I dont prefer one over the other. I love mushing, and touring. I really enjoy showing. I also love doing the obedience and trick work, agility, horseback riding with them. We were one of the first Siberians in the Super Dogs show back when it started up. That was a blast, loved doing the “Grande Prix” shows, the precursor to what is now Agility.
Faye : I believe Hugo (who played Shasta in Snow Buddies) now lives with Dallas Seavy (Four time Iditarod winner), What is Dallas like in person?
Shannon : Very nice guy. Easy to talk to. It was like chatting with your next door neighbour. It was obvious he had grown up with the dogs. He was so easy with them and my dogs all loved him.
Faye : Has Dallas run Hugo in the Iditarod?
Shannon : Hugo likes puling sled but Hugo feels that he is too much of a movie star to actually have to work for a living, lol!
Faye : Have any of your dogs taken part in the Iditarod?
Shannon : I have had many dogs qualify for the Iditarod, and dogs that go back to my lines have run it, but my own dogs have not been in it, although it is still a dream… someday maybe!
Faye : Fingers crossed that some day one of your dogs will be in a winning team. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to Northernwolf today.