Beneath the frozen ground, blanketed by several feet of snow, dozens of sled dogs slaughtered after a post-Olympic drop in tourism remain at rest, their location kept secret to avoid compromising the investigation.
SPCA officials arrived at the mass grave near Whistler on Tuesday and expressed hope that the dogs would stay in their final resting place, a spot where their lives so violently ended.
"I'm hopeful that there's going to be sufficient evidence once we complete our investigation that the bodies in the grave aren't necessarily required [to be dug up]" said Marcie Moriarty, the B.C. SPCA's cruelty investigations manager.
Ms. Moriarty couldn't say what charges the man accused of carrying out the cull might eventually face, since the investigation is still in its early stages. SPCA officials have conducted interviews but have not spoken with the man who told WorkSafeBC he killed 70 of the racing huskies last April. The company he worked for, Outdoor Adventures Whistler, later indicated the number of dead dogs was closer to 100.
Neither the SPCA nor RCMP would confirm the exact location of the mass grave. The graphic story generated headlines across the globe. The Outdoors Adventures employee told WorkSafeBC he shot some of the animals and stabbed others. Officials expressed concern that if the grave location was released, the public would arrive en masse to pay its respects, perhaps complicating the investigation.
While the SPCA furthered its case, the RCMP opened a new chapter in its file, following "serious" threats made by members of the public. Whistler RCMP spokesman Staff Sergeant Steve LeClair declined to identify the target and exact nature of the threats.
He said some of the calls for vigilante justice were made via Facebook; another was sent by email. A Facebook group calling for the boycott of Outdoor Adventures Whistler ballooned to more than 21,000 members by Tuesday afternoon, although some of the threatening posts were removed.
Staff Sgt. LeClair called for calm. "We're asking the public to have patience and let the investigation take its course."
He said Whistler RCMP have received calls from across North America from people wanting to express their concerns about the cull, and their support for the SPCA-led investigation.
The man accused of the cull filed a WorkSafeBC claim because of posttraumatic stress disorder linked to the killing of the dogs. He said he had been tasked with the job, though Outdoor Adventures Whistler said it thought the dogs would be killed humanely.
A veterinarian was contacted but refused to euthanize healthy animals. Attempts were made to have the dogs adopted, but with only limited success.
The employee told WorkSafeBC he performed what he described as "execution-style" killings in which he wrestled the dogs to the ground and stood on them with one foot to shoot them.
Tourism Whistler announced Monday it had suspended reservations for dogsledding at Outdoor Adventures Whistler.
The company, meanwhile, said the dogs were under the care of Howling Dog Tours Whistler at the time of the incident. While Outdoor Adventures had a financial interest in the Howling Dog Tours company when the animals were killed, Outdoor Adventures said it did not take over operational control until May, 2010.
"Until a further decision is reached, Howling Dog Tours Whistler has ceased conducting tours," Outdoor Adventures wrote in a statement Tuesday. "Employees will continue to be paid and will care for the dogs."
Some animal-rights groups, such as the Vancouver Humane Society, have called for a ban on dogsled tours.
Stein Hoff, another Whistler veterinarian, disagreed. "You don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water."
Dr. Hoff handles checkups for another Whistler dogsled tour operator. He said most of those who run such businesses care deeply about their animals and treat them like family.