Crown approves charges in Whistler sled dog slaying 

animal cruelty charges laid against manager, no charges for outdoor adventures at whistler

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The man accused of killing up to 54 sled dogs near Whistler in 2010 will appear in a Pemberton court house May 24.

Crown counsel has approved charges of animal cruelty against Bob Fawcett, former general manager of the Whistler-based Howling Dog Tours, for allegedly causing unnecessary pain and suffering to a number of sled dogs in April 2010.

No charges have been laid against Outdoor Adventures at Whistler Ltd. (OAW), which had a financial stake in Fawcett's company at the time of the cull. OAW took it over in May 2010.

In February 2011 a joint statement by both Fawcett and OAW stated that the company was told by the dog handler that about 50 dogs were to be culled for quality of life reasons. OAW gave no instructions to Fawcett on how the cull was to be carried out, believing it would be done humanely.

Reached by email, OAW spokesman Kirby Brown would only say: "With charges now before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment."

If convicted Fawcett faces up to five years in jail and/or up to a $10,000 fine.

"In order to move forward with criminal charges in the case, we had to produce clear evidence linking an individual to the crime as well as physical proof that the animals suffered unnecessarily, as outlined in the Criminal Code," wrote Marcie Moriarty, general manager of cruelty investigations for the BC SPCA in an email.

"Without that verification we could not present a case to Crown counsel."

Gruesome details of the killings were leaked to media in January 2011 after Fawcett filed a successful claim with WorkSafe BC, saying the cull left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The BC SPCA immediately launched an investigation and last May a team of BC SPCA constables, veterinarians and forensic scientists completed the grisly task of exhuming the bodies of 54 sled dogs from a site near Whistler.

Initial reports put the cull as high as 100 dogs, but exhumation revealed 54 remains. It is not clear if all these dogs were killed in April 2010 or if some of the remains were from previous culls.

The story captured headlines across the globe. Many in the resort at the time were concerned how it would impact tourism.

Evidence gathered at the site formed the basis for a BC SPCA report submitted to Crown counsel in September 2011 recommending charges against Fawcett. The report contained more than 1,000 pages of evidence, including extensive forensic evidence collected at the gravesite using state-of-the-art scientific techniques.

"Our report is the culmination of thousands of hours of work, not only by our own SPCA constables but by some of the best forensic scientists in North America who assisted us with the collection of the evidence," said Moriarty.

At the time it was estimated that the investigation would cost $225,00, with $100,000 coming from the government. The rest had to be raised by the SPCA.

Many of the experts at the exhumation site donated their services.

"It was our duty to carry out a proper investigation into these allegations, as we would with any other case," said Moriarty, adding that the BC SPCA also recognized that the case would have far-reaching implications for working animals in B.C. and across Canada.

"This investigation was about uncovering the facts in a particular case of alleged animal cruelty that shocked people around the world," she said. "But it was also about ensuring that all sled dogs and other working animals are protected from suffering and abuse."

The BC SPCA is the only animal welfare organization in British Columbia with the authority to investigate complaints of animal cruelty and enforce provincial and federal laws that protect animals from abuse, suffering and neglect.

The BC SPCA was a key contributor to a government task force that was created last year to examine ways to ensure more humane treatment for sled dogs and to a new sled dog code of practice that was adopted in February 2012.

The regulations allow sled dog operators to kill healthy dogs, but only after efforts have been made to find homes. The regulations also indicate the highest standard is to allow a veterinarian to carry out the euthanization. If a vet can't do it then someone authorized to do so using a firearm and following guidelines provided by a registered vet is also permitted.

The new rules cover the containment and transportation of dogs, health care, breeding, working conditions, record keeping, life planning and the killing of sled dogs. Some of the new regulations are in effect now. Others come into effect Oct. 1.

The BC SPCA is planning a memorial for the slain sled dogs this summer. "We have handled the remains of the dogs with the utmost respect and dignity and will be releasing details of the memorial soon," said Moriarty.

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