A True 'Survivor' Story, Dog Version

Actor Paul Walker and Old Jack from the movie
Actor Paul Walker and Old Jack from the movie "Eight Below." (By Chris Large -- Buena Vista Pictures)
Thursday, February 16, 2006

"Eight Below" is inspired by the true story of eight brave dogs who struggled to survive in below-freezing temperatures near the South Pole after they had to be left behind. But it took many more dogs to act out the difficult scenes in the movie that opens tomorrow. That's because each actor-dog had help from other dogs who performed stunts and pulled the sleds. In all, more than 30 dogs were used to portray the film's eight canine characters. Bridget Byrne talked with Sally Jo Sousa, an animal trainer who worked on the Disney movie, to learn about the breeds that teamed up to pull a sled through ice and snow, and about these beautiful four-legged stars and their support team.

What type of dogs are these?

"Six of the main characters were Siberian huskies. Two large dogs were Alaskan malamutes."

How big are the dogs?

"Huskies weigh between 30 and 40 pounds. The malamutes are usually anywhere from 80 to 100 pounds."

How do they manage so well in the cold?

"They have a very thick undercoat, like a down layer, under their finer, brisk hair. They work best in about 10 degrees below . . . but if the terrain is icy we put booties on them. If their feet get cold, they will lie down, curl up and put their feet up off the snow."

What are their personalities like?

"They are very intelligent, a very high-strung breed. A lot of times people see them and think they are very interesting, very wolflike . . . but they just don't work out [as pets] in the back yard. They are best to be with sledders or people who have a really active lifestyle. . . . They really are not the average family pet. That's why so many of them are abandoned."

Where did you find these dogs?

"Many we rescued from all over the country. . . . We try to rescue them for filmmaking, so they can have a home."

What was one of the biggest challenges in getting the dogs to "act" for the


"Just having them walk slowly in the snow, because in the story they were downtrodden, and tired and exhausted. That was the most difficult thing, because they wanted to run and play. They like being in the snow."

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