Outrage growing over sled dog slaughter

February 2, 2011

On Monday, Canadian radio station CKNW discovered and reported on details of the gruesome killing of around 100 sled dogs by the manager of Outdoor Adventures Whistler in British Columbia.

The descriptions are graphic and upsetting, and I’ve wrestled with how much to share here. I’ve chosen to give you links instead of quoting the most disturbing material, because it’s taken me more than 6 hours to write this post — I  keep having to stop and get a grip on myself. Please click with caution.

Outdoor Adventures Whistler claimed through spokesperson Graham Aldcroft that they had no idea their employee, identified as Robert T. Fawcett, was going to gun the dogs down in such a brutal fashion. They thought they’d be “euthanized” in a humane manner if no homes could be found for them.

Fawcett did attempt to get a veterinarian to kill the dogs by injection, but the vet he asked refused to kill a hundred perfectly healthy dogs. Fawcett  also stated some attempt was made to find new homes for the dogs, but without success.

All this came to light because Fawcett filed a workers compensation claim with local authorities for post-traumatic stress symptoms related to the killings. From the Montreal Gazette:

In a Dec. 27, 2010, posting on a website forum for trauma sufferers, a Whistler resident named Bob Fawcett, an award-winning dogsledder, wrote: “I’ve had a pretty horrible ordeal and actually figure I may be able to be a good sounding board for others … and it has pretty much destroyed my soul.”

Fawcett’s claim was approved, and he remains an employee of the company.

I have no problem with working dogs in general nor sled dogs in particular. I think dogs who are doing the work for which they’re bred are among the happiest dogs in the world, certainly happier than far too many bored, overweight, under-challenged couch pups.

But there is no breed of dog that was bred to be gunned down, a hundred at a time, by a single unqualified worker, while 200 other chained dogs watched and listened. That is an obscenity.

When I was at the North American Veterinary Conference last month, I attended a number of presentations that made reference to “The Five Freedoms.” (Our own Ericka Basile wrote about one of them here.)

The Five Freedoms grew out of a 1965 UK government investigation into inhumane farm practices, which resulted in the 1967 formation of the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (now the Farm Animal Welfare Council). After going through a number of incarnations, the “five freedoms” became these:

  • Freedom from thirst and hunger – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
  • Freedom from discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  • Freedom from pain, injury, and disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  • Freedom to express normal behavior – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  • Freedom from fear and distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

Today, those freedoms are being applied to all populations of animals held, kept, sheltered, and worked by humans, from animal shelters to ranches to family farms. They are not honored everywhere nor even in most places where people keep animals. But they are a set of standards being more widely adopted every day, and against which there is no legitimate opposition.

One of the ways in which the last freedom is always interpreted is that animals should never be killed, slaughtered, euthanized — use whatever term you like — in the sight or hearing of other animals. And the animals who are dying need to die in a way that’s swift and as free of stress as possible.

We can argue all day long about the nuances and terms of these standards. I’ve had those debates already, and I’m sure I’ll have a hundred more. But every organization or business, from animal shelter to farm, that doesn’t live up to those standards is going to find itself increasingly expected to do so, or face consequences ranging from legal penalties to greater regulation to criminal charges.

If the sled dog tour industry wants to hold its head up for one more day, if it wants to continue to exist even beyond this winter, it needs to not just denounce this brutal action, but make sure the “culling” of its retired dogs is handled by adoption, sanctuary, and creative re-homing, not by the bullet nor even by the needle.

At least one Canadian sled-dogging guide agrees. From the Toronto Globe and Mail:

“Any dog sledder who culls dogs at the end of a season should be culled himself, as far as we’re concerned,” said Paul McCormick, head dog sledding guide for Wilderness Adventures, a Toronto-based company that runs dog-sledding trips through Canada’s Algonquin Park.

“You don’t go out and cull dogs,” he said. “We’re part of the largest dog sled operation in the world with 40 dogs and we never cull dogs. We retire them, they’re adopted … there are a lot of alternatives.”

The veterinarian who refused to kill those dogs was right, even if their ultimate fates may haunt him. All our activities on this planet need to be sustainable, and if we bring sled dogs, or any other animals, into this world, they’re our responsibility.

Our business plans, our economic models, can’t be based on an exit strategy drenched in animal blood, that becomes the stuff of human nightmares.

Photo from a CTV.ca report.

Filed under: pets, connected — Christie Keith @ 2:38 pm

39 Comments »

  1. Ugh, I just saw the headlines in the paper about 5 minutes ago, have not been able to read it just yet as it breaks my heart. Sadly, in many countries dogs are seen as property/business and until that changes, such people will not be held accountable proplerly.
    Thanks for the article and giving just the basics with links if we wanted more. Not sure I want to hear more though.

    Comment by 2nd chance — February 2, 2011 @ 2:54 pm

  2. this piece says it all. thank you.

    Comment by jen — February 2, 2011 @ 3:07 pm

  3. Unbelievable tragedy. When I stumbled on the story from some Face Book notice, the first question I asked myself was if the killer was so ‘bothered’ by what he did, why didn’t he just refuse?

    Absolutely appalling.

    Comment by Linda Kaim — February 2, 2011 @ 3:21 pm

  4. Thanks for writing about this. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing about this issue today, as well, and what I’m starting to realize is that this is a much larger problem then just one company.

    Sadly, the “culling” of sled dogs is apparently common in the sport of dogsledding, and especially so among competitive sledders, where a slow dog can mean losing the competitive edge. Questions that leap to mind include:

    1) Why didn’t we already know about this?
    2) Why aren’t we actively boycotting this industry?

    I suspect this is only the tip of a very bloody iceberg.

    Comment by Laura Sterner — February 2, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

  5. I cannot believe they made a serious attempt to find homes for those dogs. Having a formerly feral dog who had little human contact prior to her seizure by Montana authorities, I can tell you it’s not impossible to deal with those situations; and for animals that had been fairly well socialized, it should have been that much easier. No excuses for this, none at all.

    Comment by Rob McMillin — February 2, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

  6. Linda — exactly right, though the Stanford Prison Experiment provides a useful guide.

    Comment by Rob McMillin — February 2, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

  7. Thanks for tackling this.

    I cannot even think straight about it.

    Comment by H. Houlahan — February 2, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

  8. Laura, There are people that have been outraged by the culling (and other forms of abuse in this sport/industry) for years; culling is not new. Here is a website that covers the issues (yes, it is by an AR activist type group, but they have been outraged and trying to expose the problems going on for years now):
    http://www.helpsleddogs.org/faq.htm#7a

    I think, perhaps, the main reason this particular story has gained traction was the person that did it this time was actually traumatized by the actions he took, made it public online, won a successful PTSD claim, and because of the number of dogs he killed.

    I agree with Christie’s position that there’s nothing better for a dog than getting to do what they were bred to do/what their genes & heritage compel them to do and that the industry/sport needs to find a better way. I’m not entirely convinced that Paul McCormick’s outfit “never” culls dogs as he claims because it really is quite common when doing so professionally or at that competitive level. I do love hearing people getting into this sport as a hobby with their own pet dogs because it shows their dedication to their dogs and understanding of what their dogs’ needs are.

    Comment by kasie — February 2, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

  9. I want to thank you for the sensitive treatment of this sensitive subject. I was afraid to read it until I read on and saw that you were going to provide links to view if we felt we could handle it. Perfect blend of important information and delivery.

    Comment by Stephanie — February 2, 2011 @ 4:17 pm

  10. @Kasie,

    Yes, I came across the helpsleddogs.org website while I was reading about this earlier today. I never knew about them until now.

    I also agree with you that there may be more of this activity than meets the eye. Their website talks about puppies being “culled” from litters due to unsuitability as sled dogs, and about dogs being “culled” due to a lack of competitiveness (i.e. being slower than other dogs).

    Though not as dramatic as what’s in today’s headlines, and perhaps being done here and there and one-by-one, I’m highly doubtful that any effort to rehome these “culled” dogs is being made.

    Comment by Laura Sterner — February 2, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

  11. “… One of the ways in which the last freedom is always interpreted is that animals should never be killed, slaughtered, euthanized — use whatever term you like — in the sight or hearing of other animals. …”

    Last year, there was a “whimsical” article in the NYTimes about the growing popularity of rabbit meat in restaurants.

    The article began with a description of a parking lot class for foodies, a beginner’s level class on killing rabbits and cooking the meat.

    The comments section was passionate and predictable and mostly illogical and frustrating to read. Nobody brought up the thing that bothered me the most: That while the rabbits were waiting for the yuppies to “practice” their “harvesting” skills on them, they had to watch the other rabbits meet their fates.

    How barbaric. The woman who taught the class is some big name in urban farming and she argues about the respect she shows the animals.

    I think people should have to study animal anatomy until they prove their competence before they even think of “harvesting” a rabbit or chicken or etc.

    Sorry for the threadjack. This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to bring this up.

    Comment by Mary Mary — February 2, 2011 @ 4:34 pm

  12. It’s easy to make excuses now…If they were truly looking for homes for these dogs, some rescues would have heard about it. This is absolutely appalling and Canadians who have allowed this kind of treatment of animals for so long should be ashamed. How about population control of the herds by Spay/Neuter instead of reckless, careless breeding??? How were the remaining 200 dogs compensated for the trauma of witnessing this bloodbath???

    Comment by ANNETTR — February 2, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

  13. I feel saddened by the whole thing. The needless death of perfectly adoptable working dogs, and the minimum wage employee who was likely pressured into the job of killing them. In these hard times, and Cda isn’t much better off than we are, to have a job and and stay employed is paramount. Many of us when faced with the bottom of the pit, do things we wouldn’t think of doing when times are good and our wallets are flush.
    Did the company ever make any effort to network with other outfitters, private sled dog handlers/racers,forums, boards,lists, FB and other social networks or the breeders of the dogs they owned for placement help? Was any effort made to the sled dog community for assistance? Did it all come down on this one poor slob because none of the higher-ups wanted to deal with it?
    Why did they overextend themselves with so many dogs in the first place? They had to know that once the Olympics were over, the need for keeping do many teams would become unnecessary. I sincerely hope the Cda authorities can find enough proof to take these basters to court and make the charges stick.

    Comment by Deb — February 2, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

  14. It’s not really a threadjack.

    For those of us who are very deliberate and careful in our sourcing of what we and our carnivorous pets eat, what food animals go through is no small issue.

    Comment by Gina Spadafori — February 2, 2011 @ 4:46 pm

  15. Gina, thanks.

    The article was so incredibly insulting. The main image showed a hand holding a young albino rabbit in the air by the scruff. His ears are large and alert. The rabbit is looking into the camera and frowning.

    The headline? “Don’t tell the kids.”

    How clever. How very witty and cool. Who cares if some yuppie messes up with the whole neck-breaking 101 thing. It’s just a kid’s toy.

    Comment by Mary Mary — February 2, 2011 @ 4:53 pm

  16. @Deb: From what I’ve been reading, it sounds like the whole thing came down very quickly and the employee was essentially told he had two days to cut expenses (including the expense of keeping all the dogs) or the company would fold.

    I’m not excusing his actions, and I agree with those who feel that the company should have known that business would likely slowdown after the Olympics and should have had a plan in place for rehoming these dogs long before this situation came about.

    Comment by Laura Sterner — February 2, 2011 @ 4:56 pm

  17. “This is absolutely appalling and Canadians who have allowed this kind of treatment of animals for so long should be ashamed.

    Comment by ANNETTR — February 2, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

    Annettr, can you please tell this Canadian what perfect country you live in, that does right by *all* it’s animals?

    This isn’t about my country. It’s about the individuals involved.

    Comment by K.B. — February 2, 2011 @ 5:12 pm

  18. Well, if the company is that strung out financially, how were they going to feed and care for 200 dogs?

    He had 48 hours to search out and call every rescue he could find. Did he ask the vet to help?

    We always have a choice. We just have to be willing to accept the consequences. He will be living with the consequences of his choice for the rest of his life. I hope.

    Comment by Susan Fox — February 2, 2011 @ 5:19 pm

  19. Okay, did this guy not have a choice on whether he killed these dogs or not? And….he got wc money for the ptsd? Did he donate the money he received to any animal rescues? Finally, we need to start prosecuting the companies and individuals involved in these actions. There is no excuse.

    Comment by lp — February 2, 2011 @ 6:00 pm

  20. How can anyone shot 100 dogs that slaved for them? How can you only regretted few mths down the road and asked for money? Shouldn’t you regretted the moment the first dog was down??? They were not stray, they were his buddies!!!!!

    Comment by Maddy — February 2, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

  21. So Outdoor Adventures Whistler pays a claim for PTSD relating to the cull, but says it had no idea of the circumstances? Did they really believe that someone develops PTSD just from witnessing ‘humane euthanasia’? If that was the case shelter workers would be raking in money from compensation claims.

    Presumably the vet’s bill for euthanising 100 dogs would be fairly substantial. Did no one wonder why it never showed up in the accounts?

    Incidentally, living in a multi dog household we have always either had our dogs euthanised in front of the others (when we only had 2 dogs) or brought the others in to see the body after death. That way they don’t go searching for the missing pack member. Maybe it just makes us feel better, but I think they understand.

    Comment by Kimba — February 2, 2011 @ 6:32 pm

  22. After reading the story, i was a little skeptical about clicking on the links since you did warn to click with caution however I was just a little curious. Well, I just can’t believe how cruel people can be–It’s all about that mighty dollar. I am sick thinking about those poor dogs and how they suffered. They depend on people and they had no clue what was going to happen to them–HOW SAD!!!!

    Comment by Joy — February 2, 2011 @ 6:33 pm

  23. The Canadian government has appointed a task force, headed by a veterinarian, to investigate the killings:

    http://www.news1130.com/news/local/article/178231–premier-appoints-task-force-to-review-dog-killings

    There is also going to be a rally for the killed dogs.

    Comment by Christie Keith — February 2, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

  24. Incidentally, living in a multi dog household we have always either had our dogs euthanised in front of the others (when we only had 2 dogs) or brought the others in to see the body after death. That way they don’t go searching for the missing pack member. Maybe it just makes us feel better, but I think they understand.

    Comment by Kimba — February 2, 2011 @ 6:32 pm

    Kimba, I would do the same thing.

    I think there is a huge difference between a GENTLE death, the “euth” in euthanasia, and 1) what these sled dogs experienced and 2) what the rabbits in the NYTimes article experienced.

    Comment by Mary Mary — February 2, 2011 @ 7:06 pm

  25. Never have I heard of such an injustice, an inhumanity, a cruelty. May that man forever hear and see this in his dreams clear into hell. I cannot believe that he is not in custody for animal cruelty as a felony. These dogs were trained to do their best and perform their jobs and faithfully serve these people and after using them for their own purposes, these animals with feelings and emotions were slaughtered in the most inhumane way. Canada, please punish these perpetrators of animal cruelty that goes beyond the pale. They should be in prison.

    Comment by Diana Arand — February 2, 2011 @ 7:48 pm

  26. I can’t help but wonder about the veterinarian who was asked to kill the dogs but refused. It sounds as if he knew the dogs would be killed by someone else, yet did not contact anyone to warn that this would happen. Has anyone asked him why?

    Comment by Karen — February 2, 2011 @ 8:32 pm

  27. Administrative note:

    Any comment calling for violence against the man who killed the dogs, against the company or anyone else will not be tolerated here.

    Comment by Gina Spadafori — February 2, 2011 @ 8:37 pm

  28. Where do you get that, Karen? I don’t see any discussion of that in the news stories I’ve read.

    Comment by Christie Keith — February 2, 2011 @ 8:49 pm

  29. Here is the complete PDF file of the report on Fawcett’s claim. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES READ IT without understanding it’s horrific, worse than any of the news reports. I wish I’d never laid eyes on it. But it contains an uncontested account of what happened, and for that reason, I’m adding it to the record here.

    http://beta.images.theglobeandmail.com/archive/01159/WorkSafe_BC_Review_1159405a.pdf

    Comment by Christie Keith — February 2, 2011 @ 8:58 pm

  30. My question about the vet was based on widespread reporting that (as you put it above) “Fawcett did attempt to get a veterinarian to kill the dogs by injection, but the vet he asked refused to kill a hundred perfectly healthy dogs.”

    I haven’t seen any additional detail in any news stories stating that the vet reported the request after turning it down. And if I understand correctly, the BCSPCA did not know about the killings until the radio station unearthed them. So I was assuming, perhaps unfairly, that the vet knew the dogs would be killed, but said nothing about it to anyone. Maybe I misunderstood. The fact that he had been asked made me wonder about the obligations of someone in his position.

    Comment by Karen — February 2, 2011 @ 9:11 pm

  31. I don’t want to live in the universe where a veterinarian is REQUIRED to kill a single perfectly healthy dog, let alone a hundred of them, or get fingers pointed at him blaming him, directly or indirectly, for the depraved actions of an individual or a greedy, uncaring business.

    Had the dogs been killed “humanely,” what Fawcett did would not have been against the law. It’s not entirely clear that even what did happen was against the law, although I can’t imagine that it wasn’t.

    And as you can see from my latest update, the BCSPCA certainly had heard from Fawcett long before the radio station “unearthed” the document.

    http://www.petconnection.com/blog/2011/02/02/shelter-twice-refused-to-help-sled-dogs/

    Barring some new evidence suggesting the vet did something wrong, any assigning of blame to him or her is totally off-base.

    Comment by Christie Keith — February 2, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

  32. Having adopted a rescued sled dog myself, this story made me particularly ill. The horror and fear those dogs went through is unspeakable. And unless that employee had a gun held to his OWN head, I’m sorry, but I will not accept that he “had” to kill those dogs, especially in that way. We always have choices – sure, he may have lot his job, but sadly he chose to lose his humanity.

    Comment by dina — February 3, 2011 @ 10:16 am

  33. Enough about the Canadians being responsible for this tragedy.It is inaccurate and not useful to a solution.

    Outdoor Adventure has temporarily suspended operations. Also interesting, that Joey Houssian is the son of the owner of Intrawest! A decidedly American Resort Giant.

    As for Bob Fawcett, who really knows what state of mind he was in, when he was the one that ended up having follow company (read above info)orders.

    Comment by marilyn — February 4, 2011 @ 8:01 am

  34. Fawcett was general manager and part owner of Dog Sledding Whistler when he killed the dogs in April. OAW did not take full possession of the company until May. In fact, Fawcett not only filed his own worker’s comp claim but also the required company paperwork.

    He posted on a PTSD forum that he’s been “dealing with” (i.e., killing) dogs and puppies for the past 15 years. In 2009 he killed a large number of unwanted dogs and sought counseling just as he did after the April slaughter. In all this time, Fawcett has not stopped killing dogs. He considers himself a “victim” suffering from PTSD. But the only orders he followed were his own.

    There is no evidence that Fawcett made any attempt to place the dogs with other mushers. Yet he was vice president of Mush with P.R.I.D.E., a well-known organization that advocates humane treatment of sled dogs. Fawcett was far from being a low-level employee
    forced to commit a crime to keep his paycheck–he was a high-profile dog sled racer, very well-connected. OAW now says they
    have placed more than 70 additional unwanted dogs with mushers since the April slaughter.
    Yet Fawcett couldn’t be bothered to do this?

    Last night at 8 p.m. people around the world lit candles for the dogs who died at Whistler.
    Good, beautiful dogs. May they rest in peace and run freely forever.

    Comment by Jeanne — February 5, 2011 @ 11:42 am

  35. As long as I remember, the money take place before everything else. When we work in this kind of cie where there are animals, this motivation should take another way. The well-being of the animals must be the motivation. We’re not speaking about cars or electric gadgets, we are speaking about faithful animals who feel love, pain, fear etc…. and they should be on the first step in our motivation. They are not our slaves, neither an object to make money on their back. Those dogs were dressed to help and make people happy. We must respect all of them in the way they are. For every person who works with animals, it should be THE ONLY OPTION.

    Comment by Ouralou — February 12, 2011 @ 3:35 pm

  36. Sad that this stayed hidden for 9 months. Whats really sad is how long has this and other companys been doing this type of “culling”?? No way I will be visiting that aweful area ever again.

    Comment by Tyra — February 13, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

  37. “Thanks for writing about this. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing about this issue today, as well, and what I’m starting to realize is that this is a much larger problem then just one company.

    Sadly, the “culling” of sled dogs is apparently common in the sport of dogsledding, and especially so among competitive sledders, where a slow dog can mean losing the competitive edge.”

    Contrary to what some people say, the above is not true.
    I am a dog musher myself and culling is not a common practice in the dog mushing world. If a dog isn’t working out or if a kennel needs to down size then they will simply re-home the dog(s) in another kennel, to a beginner, or pet home.
    This mass murder is a perfect example of a “bad apple” or in other words someone who is into something for the wrong reasons (ie. They are only in it for the money or the attention). There will be bad apples in all walks of life whether it be dog mushing, pet ownership or even raising children. Just because some people don’t do things right though, that doesn’t mean ALL people involved with that sport or whatever does the same thing. Some people abuse their children but does that mean all parents abuse their children? Of course not. Same with dog mushing.
    What we mushers don’t want is people throwing blanket statements on us and labeling us all cullers or abusers just because someone does the wrong thing. All of the animal activists and PETA people have really painted a nasty picture when it comes to dog mushing. They would prefer it if it was banned from all existence. They make websites and write articles saying untrue and extremely exaggerated things about dog mushers. Unfortunately the bad things that are said about dog mushers greatly out weighs the good. Only the bad news gets the spot light and into the media.
    I know A LOT of people involved with this sport and their dogs are their life. They live for their dogs. That is how most mushers are. We treat our dogs as start athletes because that’s what they are. We wouldn’t be professional or we wouldn’t have a buisness if our dogs were poorly taken care of. Dogs won’t run when they aren’t cared for.
    So culling is not a common practice in the dog mushing world. Myself and other dog mushers are absolutely sick over this story. There is no excuse for what happened. A lot could have been done for those dogs other than killing them.
    http://www.willowrunsleddogs.webs.com

    Comment by Dakota — February 18, 2011 @ 5:39 pm

  38. Yep, there are 2 posts. Sorry about that.

    Comment by Dakota — February 18, 2011 @ 6:14 pm

  39. I removed one of them. :)

    Comment by Christie Keith — February 18, 2011 @ 6:24 pm

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