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Man accused of sled dog slayings in court Thursday

Sled dog operators share statistics on euthanized dogs

CONCERNED CANINE The man accused of animal cruelty in connection with the cull of sled dogs in April of 2010 will appear in court today (May 24).

A first court hearing is scheduled for Thursday, May 24 in Pemberton for the only person charged so far in connection with a sled dog cull alleged to have taken place in April of 2010.

The hearing scheduled for the Pemberton courthouse comes after Crown counsel announced last month that Robert Fawcett has been charged with animal cruelty for allegedly causing unnecessary pain and suffering to a number of sled dogs.

Fawcett was the general manager of the Whistler-based Howling Dog Tours at the time. If Fawcett is found guilty he could face up to five years in jail and/or up to a $10,000 fine.

The BC SPCA spent more than $200,000 to investigate the dog cull after it was discovered that Fawcett had given WorkSafe BC details of the cull when he applied for benefits as he dealt with post traumatic distress.

Details of the killings were leaked to reporters in January 2011 after Fawcett was awarded WorkSafe BC benefits and the gruesome details created an international reaction from people upset by the news.

The BC SPCA submitted a 1,000-page report for Crown counsel in September of 2011 and now more than two years after the dogs were killed, the matter is coming before the courts. The BC SPCA uncovered the remains of 54 sled dogs though the original allegation suggested up to 100 dogs were culled.

While the court process gets underway, sled dog operators in Whistler are sharing details of their practices. The industry has come under great scrutiny since news of the cull spread around the world and new government regulations require sled dog operators to meet higher standards of care.

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.

Sue Eckersley of Whistler Sled Dog Co., and a director with the Sled Dog Foundation, said that since her company was created and took over the operation Fawcett once managed, two dogs have been euthanized.

She reported that both dogs were put down following a recommendation from a veterinarian. Eckersley said one dog had cancer and the other was living in extreme pain from a spinal deformity. The dog lost the use of its hind legs.

"We have adopted out a few of our retired dogs and the rest will remain at the kennels — the decision will be made on a case by case basis — whatever is best for the dog," said Eckersley.

She said a total of 31 retired dogs have been put into new homes and Eckersley added that puppies born this spring were also adopted out. Eckersley herself is in the process of adopting one of the retired dogs.

"Working with WAG we've been able to work out a program that is working great and will help the Sled Dog Foundation create the boutique sled operation that we're looking for in the Whistler Sled Dog Co.," she said

Jaime Hargreaves, who provides sled dog services for Canadian Snowmobile Adventures, said her company has euthanized three dogs since the her company was launched five years ago.

"Each and every one of these dogs receives whatever medical services they need," said Hargreaves. "Euthanization is not an option for any of these dogs and never has been unless it is absolutely necessary."

According to Hargreaves, two of the dogs that were euthanized were over the age of 12 and the other was suffering from a severe illness.

Pique requested information from all the sled dog operators in Whistler and only Canadian Snowmobile and The Sled Dog Co. responded.

For more stories related to Fawcett's court appearance go to