Legacy of Whistler Sled Dog Massacre is New, Controversial Code


On April 21 and 23, 2010, using a gun and a knife, a man executed as many as 100 sled dogs in an act that horrified animal rights activists, dogsledders, and the general public. Occurring in Whistler, British Columbia, it has come to be known as the Whistler sled dog massacre.

Robert T. Fawcett, director of Howling Dog Tours Whistler, Ltd., killed roughly a third of his company's dogs when business slumped following the 2010 Winter Olympics. The slaughter was brought on by financial reality -- the company was feeding and caring for far more dogs than it needed -- and Fawcett said at the time that it wasn't his decision, that he was following orders. The dogs were buried in a mass grave.

Months later, haunted by his actions on those two days, Fawcett applied for and received compensation from WorkSafeBC, the Workers' Compensation Board of British Columbia, for post-traumatic stress disorder.

That's when the story got out -- a leaked WorkSafeBC report on the decision contained the story of the slaughter in gruesome detail. Dogs were killed in front of other dogs, dogs that weren't taken down with a clean shot ran off and had to be chased down, dogs were killed "execution style," and through it all, the dogs that were still alive became more and more panicked.

(The report is here, and is not for the faint of heart.)

The SPCA investigated, and a large forensic operation, described in MacLeans, exhumed 56 dog corpses from the grave site. The SPCA has lobbied for criminal charges to be pressed against Fawcett and Joey Houssian, owner of Outdoor Adventures at Whistler, parent company of Howling Dog Tours but to date no such charges have been filed.

The main consequence of the dog massacre has been a revision of British Columbia's laws on animal cruelty. A CBC report published on Tuesday led with the statement that "British Columbia now has the toughest animal-cruelty laws in the country."

But animal advocates aren't so sure the Sled Dog Code of Practice and other regulations (outlined by the province's Ministry of Agriculture) are a good solution.

How to shoot a dog

A February 22 article in the Vancouver Sun reported that two Vancouver animal groups, the Humane Society and Lifeforce, were alarmed that the new code included instructions for the humane killing of dogs. Peter Fricker of the Humane Society said, "It's disturbing that a document that is supposedly about animal welfare shows you how to shoot your dog" and added "We don't really see how this prevents something like Whistler happening again."

An article in the Whistler Question described the concern voiced by the SPCA that the new codes were not enforceable with the available resources. Marcy Moriarty, general manager of cruelty investigations for the B.C. SPCA, said that “If the code is enforced, it would result in improved welfare for sled dogs — but the reality is that the government has made it clear that they will not be providing funding to the SPCA for cruelty investigations this year. ... It’s just physically impossible for 26 constables funded by donors to conduct proactive, onsite visits to all of these operations on top of the animal cruelty investigations that we do each year.”

Moriarty was involved in the investigation of the original massacre, and was also part of the working group that devised the new codes. "The government can now say we have the toughest penalties, we have the toughest legislation and now we have the first regulations in Canada around working animals, sled dogs, and that’s excellent,” she said. “But it’s just a book on a shelf without the ability to actually enforce it.”

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ppmickey's picture
Submitted by ppmickey on
I'd like to know why it's so hard for Canada to have books on law, "on the shelf" but be unable to enforce them. That's one of the reasons the United Nations had to get involved on the behalf of all the missing and/or murdered young aboriginal women. Apparently they don't care about their aboriginal women or there animals that are work animals, or probably any pet, for that matter. Wake up Canada! This is outrageous and there is no excuse that can be given for why you have handled these two matters so poorly. It's time to put this boss in prison along with his worker, who ended up with post traumatic stress disorder. This is an order, from a superior, that I would have flat-out refused to do. This boss could have done his own killing. This man who did the killing is every bit as guilty as his boss is. There are people who would have been more than welcome to take these dogs in as their own. There was no reason to kill them. I'm so angry. I want to be proud to have Canada as my neighbor and these two problems are making it a little difficult for me right now. I don't know about the rest of American's out there, but this is truly two outrageous things that could have been handled in a much different way. I hope the boss and his employee who actually did the killings have nightmares about this for the rest of their lives. I'm sorry that the Worker's Compensation Bureau even saw fit to award this many any compensation other than medical expenses. At least I hope that's all they gave him. I'm glad he at least is humane enough to feel guilt over killing so many dogs.