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Former sled dog operator charged over mass slaughter of huskies

Sled dogs rest at a kennel operated by Whistler Outdoor Adventures near Whistler, B.C., on Saturday February 5, 2011.

Darryl Dyck/ The Globe and Mail/Darryl Dyck/ The Globe and Mail

In a case that sparked international outrage and horror, a former sled dog operator has now been charged over the mass slaughter of dozens of huskies two years ago in Whistler.

Robert T. Fawcett will appear in provincial court next month on a charge of causing unnecessary pain and suffering to the dogs.

The charge had been recommended by the B.C. SPCA, which conducted the most complex investigation in its history, at a cost of $250,000, to determine whether the dogs had suffered as Mr. Fawcett put them to death.

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The incident came to light after the accused filed a workers' compensation claim for post-traumatic stress disorder, based on emotional fallout from the gruesome slaughter.

Mr. Fawcett, who used to run Howling Dog Tours before Outdoor Adventures Whistler took over operations, said in his claim that he had been ordered to cull the company's herd of dogs when demand dropped off after the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Outdoor Adventures, however, has consistently denied having anything to do with the cull, and rejected suggestions the husky killings were connected in any way with a post-Olympic decline in business.

Forensic scientists, veterinarians and SPCA investigators exhumed the bodies of 54 sled dogs last May from a large site outside Whistler.

Marcie Moriarty, general manager of cruelty investigations for the B.C. SPCA, said the challenge was to prove that at least some of the dogs suffered unnecessary pain or injury prior to death.

"If we had uncovered 54 dogs that evidence showed each had died instantaneously, there would not have been a charge," Ms. Moriarty said Friday.

"We found a number of instances where the evidence was sufficient to show dogs did not die instantaneously."

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In his compensation claim, Mr. Fawcett had mentioned some shots that missed and at times using a knife.

Ms. Moriarty said all those involved in the investigation felt under enormous pressure because of the widespread notoriety of the case.

"There was a ton of interest. This piece went worldwide. People were sending in so many opinions."

She said people resonated to the husky deaths because of the close relations so many have with their own family dog "and the thought that these dogs were disposed of so callously."

Ms. Moriarty noted the charge was laid one day short of the second anniversary of the cull.

Kirby Brown, a spokesperson for Outdoor Adventures, declined comment, saying it would not be appropriate to say anything about the matter now that it was before the court.

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The killings prompted the provincial government to bring in a new code of practice for sled dog operators in B.C.

"Sometimes it takes these tragedies to change legislation, to bring awareness to an issue, and that certainly happened here," Ms. Moriarty said.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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