By MICHAEL PLATT, CALGARY SUN
Last Updated: January 31, 2011 9:28pm
Warning to readers: This column contains graphic content of a disturbing nature.
A final hug, then a knife across the throat.
It was a death reserved for dogs that were in a panic as Bob Fawcett carried out what he believed was an order to euthanize half of his beloved sled dog pack.
Only a few of the “herd” died by the blade — the vast majority of the dozens of huskies chosen for the cull were killed by bullet, and some took more than one.
“Some I missed, had to chase around with blood everywhere, some I had to slit their throats because it was the only way to keep them calm in my arms,” stated Fawcett.
“I had one still alive in a pit I dug for a mass burial. I carried them all one by one so as to at least give them some kind of respect.”
That’s the horrifying testimony of a man desperately seeking solace from the haunting memories of April 2010, when Fawcett says he slaughtered 100 sled dogs in Whistler. B.C.
Fawcett is laying low after gruesome details of a report filed with WorkSafeBC were made public, igniting fury and outrage among animal lovers.
The dogs were killed because of low tourism numbers after the Winter Olympics, according to WorkSafe BC documents, which record the stress suffered by the man who pulled the trigger.
Fawcett, a well-known sled dog racer, has made no secret of his anguish, posting repeatedly on public web forums dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, telling his story in stark detail.
“I guess I need people who have been to hell and have seen hell to understand how I feel and maybe be able to listen and share,” wrote Fawcett on one website, dedicated to combat soldiers.
On another forum, for people suffering from complex post-traumatic stress disorder, Fawcett describes a personal hell of nightmares and regret.
“I live in Whistler BC. I was forced to kill and it has pretty much destroyed my soul,” Fawcett posted.
There’s no question a dog massacre took place: Both the RCMP and B.C. SPCA have opened investigations, with the SPCA planning to exhume the mass grave as soon as weather allows.
Where the doubt lies is in why the dogs died so violently, with apparent suffering.
Outdoor Adventures Whistler, the company in charge of the dogs, issued a press release Monday, condemning the method by which the huskies were dispatched.
“OAW was aware of the relocation and euthanization of dogs ... in April 2010 but it was our expectation that it was done in a proper, legal and humane manner,” reads the statement.
The company goes on to say it had only a financial interest in the operation prior to April 2010. As of May, it took full control, improving care standards and finding new homes for 75 dogs across Western Canada.
But the documents filed with WorkSafe BC point to a situation where the dog sled manager felt there was no choice — a belief reflected in Fawcett’s online posts.
“I was told the company was going to fold unless we took drastic action. The drastic action would be the immediate disposal of half the herd,” he wrote.
Fawcett claims there were too many dogs because the parent company refused to sell any, “in case’ it was busy.”
For those looking on in disgust, the semantics of who ordered the slaughter, and why, isn’t the point. The needless suffering of 100 huskies is.
“It’s horrible, and I hope I never hear of anything like this again,” said Marcie Moriarty, general manager of cruelty investigations for the B.C. SPCA.
The organization opposes sled dogs as a tourism draw, saying many animals aren’t treated well at the best of times.
“You pay $150 and you see 20 dogs hooked up in an idyllic setting, but you don’t see 200-plus dogs tethered on chains back at the compound,” said Moriarty.
She says descriptions of injured dogs trying to flee the slaughter in panic and others trying to escape the mass grave break her heart.
“Honestly, it’s hard to handle and it doesn’t get easier to read it,” said Moriarty.
“The concept of a cull is something done under very strict standards, and these dogs didn’t get that dignity.”
And that’s what constables from the SPCA will be investigating to see if charges are warranted. Though it’s legal to kill pets and livestock in B.C., it must be done in a humane manner.
If the WorkSafe BC documents are correct, that didn’t happen.
The report is sickening, with passages describing a dog with half its face shot off still running in fear, and another dog still crawling around 20 minutes after taking a bullet.
Sled dogs aren’t pets and adopting them out would have been a difficult process, requiring trained handlers to step forward.
But that’s still no excuse for what took place, said Rich Bittner, owner of Canmore’s Howling Dog Tours.
“We’re shocked and deeply saddened, and I don’t know what to say,” said Bittner.
“That wouldn’t happen here — I have dogs that are 15 years old.”
Bittner knows Fawcett, and the company involved,
In fact, he partially owned the B.C. sled company now under investigation, before selling his shares to Fawcett in 2004.
“We sold our interest and have absolutely no connection now,” said Bittner.
“I don’t understand what could have happened.”