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Sled dogs’ killer in mental anguish, lawyer says

Robert Fawcett, centre, who was accused of killing 56 sled dogs after the 2010 Olympics and pleaded guilty in August to a single count of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal, leaves Provincial Court after his sentencing in North Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday November 22, 2012. Fawcett was sentenced to three year's probation and given a $1,500 fine.


He killed several sled dogs near the resort community of Whistler, B.C., following a decline in business. Most were shot with a high-powered gun; some had to be finished off with a knife.

Although the killings made headlines around the globe when news broke in January, 2011, little was known about Robert Fawcett – a former employee of Howling Dog Tours – until his sentencing hearing this week.

A workers' compensation board document in which Mr. Fawcett outlined his post-traumatic stress disorder has filled in some of the blanks; his lawyer, Greg Diamond, used the sentencing hearing to try to fill in the rest. Mr. Diamond, armed with 30 letters of support, attempted to introduce the world to the real Robert Fawcett, a man he said became an "international pariah" for doing what he believed was right.

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Mr. Fawcett was born in Moncton, N.B., in July, 1972. An only child, he was raised on a farm, where the death of animals was a part of life. When Mr. Fawcett was 12, his mother left his father for his hockey coach. Mr. Fawcett was forced to spend more time with his father, who was perpetually angry and suffered from depression, the son said.

Mr. Fawcett completed high school and, for a time, rode mountain bikes for a living. He was in Alberta in 1995 when he met his eventual wife. He had been working as a bush pilot, but moved to a position as musher with a sled-dog operation in Canmore, Alta. In 2003, having opened Howling Dog Tours near Whistler, of which he was part-owner, Mr. Fawcett made the move to British Columbia.

In 2005 came the first hint of financial trouble. Mr. Fawcett had poured his savings into the business, but one factor was completely beyond his control: snow, or the lack of it. He was never able to recover from that season's financial shortfall. Outdoor Adventures Whistler bought half the operation in 2008, the rest in 2009.

Mr. Fawcett said business was steady during the 2010 Olympics, but dropped off sharply afterwards. At 300, the pack of dogs was far too big and relocation and adoption efforts weren't as successful as hoped. Mr. Fawcett said some of the staff walked out when their pay was cut. He said Outdoor Adventures also froze spending.

The entire pack began to suffer, he said. They weren't getting enough attention or space. They grew agitated and started fighting. He said a decision was made to put down the older, more aggressive dogs, as well as the sick. He chose to do it himself in April, 2010, believing he could do so with the most compassion.

"Had I not done so, they would all be sitting there dying slowly, painfully and miserably," Mr. Fawcett's lawyer quoted him as saying.

But the killings quickly spiraled out of control. Choosing to kill the dogs in plain view of the others was a mistake; the animals were going into distress. Of the 54 who were found in a mass grave, Mr. Fawcett was charged in connection with the deaths of only nine. Since euthanization is legal, he was tried for those who suffered and didn't immediately die. He pleaded guilty to one count of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal. He was sentenced to $1,725 in fines, three years of probation and 200 hours of community service.

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Mr. Fawcett had a mental breakdown after news of the killings went public. He was sent to a mental hospital in Ontario under an assumed name. His family went into hiding at one hotel, then a second when their security was breached. Death threats still found them.

Mr. Fawcett has constant thoughts of suicide, his lawyer said. He has hacked into his arm with a hunting knife and repeatedly bashed his head into a tree. He still shudders when he hears a dog bark.

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