When Michael McDowell went on a dog sledding trip in 2016 in South River, Ont., it was something he perceived as a "magical" experience.
"You get there. You see these dogs. You take them out into the woods. I love camping and I love doing different activities," said McDowell.
He even fell in love with one dog during that 2016 trip so much that he went back one year later to adopt him — eight-year-old Bubba.
That's when the "magic" quickly started to fade, McDowell said.
'That's all they know'
"I brought back home a dog that had anxiety ... And then you realize for nine years or ten years of their lives, they've been chained up to a barrel and that's all that they know."
Fern Levitt spent three years investigating the sled dog industry — which, like McDowell, started after what she thought was a harmless sled dog excursion through Algonquin Park.
Because of her investigation and experience, Levitt also adopted a dog, named Slater, from the sledding operation — and then made a documentary titled Sled Dogs.
"I didn't know anything about this," said Levitt. "Taking him home was just a spontaneous thing that I did. I felt like I had to do something."
The documentary has received criticism from the mushing industry, as well as critical acclaim from animal activists. Like McDowell, Levitt found taking home one of these dogs wasn't as easy as she might have thought.
McDowell has made two more trips to South River, adopting three of Bubba's littermates — Burk in 2018 and, this past Friday, Brute and Briar.
Meaghan Marton went with McDowell on Friday, not expecting to bring a dog back to Windsor — but she did. She knows it's going to be a hard adjustment for these dogs.
"They sleep in barrels. They sleep outside in –35 degree weather, so a home is completely new to them," said Marton. "Walking through a door, going downstairs. It's things that we take for granted as people and we expect dogs to do those things."
Levitt's dog "was a mess," she said.
"He didn't know how to play with other dogs, he didn't know how to chase a squirrel. He was very afraid of anything," said Levitt.
McDowell's first rescue dog, Bubba, has since passed away. But after his trip on Friday, he's now providing a home to Burk, one of Bubba's littermates.
Chocpaw Expeditions, where the dogs McDowell and Marton brought back to Windsor are from, did not respond to an interview request at time of publication.