Fifty-two sled dogs who were killed following the 2010 Winter Olympics have been exhumed from a mass grave outside a Whistler ski resort.
The dogs were among as many as 100 that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals expects to find on the site before the gruesome excavation is completed on Tuesday.
The bodies are being dug up to search for evidence that could back up criminal charges, Lorie Chortyk, a general manager for the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in B.C., said Sunday in an interview.
Forensic veterinarians were X-raying the bodies and conducting examinations to gather evidence, she said.
On some days over the past week, up to 30 people have been involved in the excavation. Forensic anthropologists, forensic archeologists and SPCA constables, as well as veterinarians, have been working together to collect evidence, Ms. Chortyk said.
After they complete their work, the bodies will be sent for necropsies for further processing. The forensic evidence will be part of a SPCA report that will be submitted to Crown counsel who will decide whether criminal charges will be brought.
The animals will likely be cremated once the evidence is processed, Ms. Chortyk said. “We will make sure they get a proper burial and will finally rest in peace,” she said.
Ms. Chortyk said she could not speak about what has been discovered so far about the 52 dogs that have been exhumed. The information submitted to Crown counsel is to remain confidential, she said.
The dogs were killed in April, 2010, but their deaths were not widely known until January, when the media reported that Robert Fawcett submitted a workers’ compensation claim for post-traumatic stress disorder after he killed at least 70 sled dogs following the Olympics. He claimed that he was required to slaughter the dogs by his employer after a decline in tourism.
Sparking outrage among animal lovers internationally, Mr. Fawcett described execution-style killings in which he stood on some dogs with one foot to shoot them. He stabbed other dogs. In a report related to his compensation claim, as many as 100 dogs were alleged to have been killed.
However, Outdoor Adventures Whistler, the company that employed Mr. Fawcett, has taken issue with Mr. Fawcett’s story. Company president Joey Houssian has said his company knew nothing about the scale of the slaughter.
Mr. Houssian said he had been told 50 dogs would be culled, all of them old, sick or not adoptable. He denied that the company exerted pressure to cull the dogs in order to cut costs, or that a post-Olympic decline in business sparked the slaughter.
The SPCA estimates the investigation could cost as much as $225,000. Ms. Chortyk said the SPCA, which relies on public donations for its finances, has come under some criticism for spending so much on the investigation.
“If we were investigating one animal whose throat had been slashed, people might not question why we’re spending $2,000 for that investigation,” she said. The costs seem more just because the SPCA is investigating so many animals at the same time.
Regardless, the SPCA has a duty as an enforcement agency to investigate every single report of animal cruelty that it receives, she said.
“In this case, there are a lot of animals that allegedly are victims of crime and it is our job to make sure we get the facts to Crown counsel,” Ms. Chortyk said.