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The Globe and Mail

Company did not tell man to shoot dogs, says employee

Framed by sleds, a sled dog runs to a kennel truck after returning from a tour run by Outdoor Adventures Whistler in the Soo Valley north of Whistler, B.C., on Monday January 31, 2011.

Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press

The man accused of slaughtering up to 100 dogs in Whistler says he wasn't given any instructions on how to kill the animals by his employer, and told the company the dogs he planned to cull were old, sick, and "not adoptable."

Robert Fawcett and Outdoor Adventures Whistler issued a joint statement late Wednesday, marking Mr. Fawcett's first comments on the cull. The statement said Mr. Fawcett, the former general manager of dogsled tours, advised the company in mid-April that 50 dogs would be euthanized.

The statement said Mr. Fawcett was not given any instructions on how to euthanize the animals. Outdoor Adventures has said since the story first broke that it did not instruct Mr. Fawcett to shoot and stab the animals and thought they would be killed humanely.

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The B.C. government has appointed a task force to review the cull, less than a week after news of the horrific cull generated headlines around the world.

Premier Gordon Campbell announced Wednesday that the task force will review the response by all agencies involved in the Whistler incident, as well as the responsibilities and regulations of the dog sledding industry.

The task force will be led by MLA and veterinarian Terry Lake, and will include representatives from the SPCA and Union of B.C. Municipalities. It will have 45 days to complete a report, which will then be forwarded to the Minister of Agriculture for review, before being released to the public.

"It's there to discover where we fell short," Mr. Campbell told reporters. "It's sickening and it's something we have to learn from so we don't see it happen again."

Mr. Fawcett told WorkSafeBC he killed at least 70 dogs last April after a decline in tourism. The company he worked for, Outdoor Adventures Whistler, later said the number of dead dogs was closer to 100. Mr. Fawcett, who filed a workers' compensation claim, has been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder.

He told WorkSafeBC he shot some of the dogs to death, and stabbed others. In some instances, 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. The animals were buried in a mass grave.

The SPCA has launched an investigation into the incident.

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Mr. Fawcett was well known in Whistler for his work in the dog sledding industry. He also served as vice-president for Mush With Pride, an Alaska-based organization that promotes responsible and humane sled dog care.

Karen Ramstead, the group's president, said Mr. Fawcett was voted off the group's board of directors Wednesday morning. "All of us on Pride and most of the dog mushers out there adore our dogs and this is simply an unacceptable situation," she said.

The SPCA said it first met with Mr. Fawcett on May 28, more than a month after he allegedly slaughtered the dogs. Some media reports had suggested the SPCA was contacted while the dogs were still alive and rebuffed the man's pleas for help, a claim the organization angrily denied.

The SPCA said the May meeting was largely to address a disagreement between Mr. Fawcett and his employer. He filed a complaint with the SPCA against the company in July, expressing concern about the care for the dogs.

Also in July, the company contacted the SPCA and other rescue organizations to ask for assistance in removing some of its dogs. The SPCA said it couldn't assist at that time, because its shelters already had an overwhelming number of animals.

Discussions continued, and the SPCA was ready to take 40 to 60 of the dogs into its care on Oct. 14. But on Oct. 13, the company said it had managed to find new homes for the dogs elsewhere.

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In an e-mail statement Wednesday, the company said 75 healthy dogs were given to other mushers in Alberta, Ontario and other parts of B.C.

It said four dogs have been euthanized since May, when Outdoor Adventures took over operational control of the business - previously operated by Howling Dog Tours, in which Outdoor Adventures had a financial interest. One of the dogs had cancer, another had a brain lesion, while two others were elderly. A fifth dog died of natural causes.

The dog-culling story has generated a strong response from dog lovers and animal rights groups across the globe. A Facebook group calling for a boycott of Outdoor Adventures had nearly 40,000 members Wednesday afternoon.

In the wake of the story, the Humane Society International Canada called for stronger laws involving dog sledding. The Animal Legal Defense Fund has offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone engaged in the illegal killing of sled dogs in Canada or the U.S.

With a report from Justine Hunter

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