Photo credit – Vancouver Sun.
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Post-Olympic slaughter of 70 sled dogs prompts rage, embarrassment
ROBERT MATAS and SUNNY DHILLON
Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.— From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Jan. 31, 2011 11:05AM EST
Last updated Tuesday, Feb. 01, 2011 10:59AM EST
For visitors to Whistler during the 2010 Winter Olympics, the blue-eyed huskies that took tourists on sleds into the wilderness were icons of Canada.
For those who work with those dogs, the animals are much more than a livelihood, they are close companions.
When news broke Monday of the mass slaughter of at least 70 dogs last April, dog sledders across Canada reacted with sheer horror – and disgust.
“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.”
An employee of Outdoor Adventures Whistler says he killed at least 70 dogs over two days. The huskies, weighing about 40 to 50 pounds, were used for dog sled tours during the 2010 Winter Olympics, but were uneconomic to keep after the Games were over and the tourists went home.
In response to concerns over the killings, Tourism Whistler on Monday suspended reservations for dog sledding at Outdoor Adventures Whistler, which is owned by Joey Houssian, son of the founder of Intrawest Corp., Joe Houssian. Full refunds will be provided for those who booked a dog sledding tour with the company and want their money back.
Spokesman Graham Aldcroft told reporters the company had expected a proper, legal and humane manner would be used to euthanize the dogs. Company officials heard last Friday that as many as 100 dogs were put down on April 21 and April 23 in a brutal manner.
The Outdoor Adventures kennel is between the communities of Whistler and Pemberton, surrounded by snow-covered trees and at the end of a rarely travelled road. The kennel was at one point home to the dozens of dogs who were culled. Kennel staff wouldn’t comment on the situation Monday, although they were visibly shaken.
About 150 dogs still call the kennel home. When they’re not on the dog sled tour, the racing huskies bide their time play-fighting, barking at unfamiliar faces and chewing their doghouses. Some of the dogs at the kennel have long since retired. The kennel has been unable to find homes for them because of their age, so they remain at the facility, frolicking with the other animals.
A report filed by WorkSafeBC on a claim for compensation for post-traumatic distress disorder sets out the details of the killings in graphic detail.
WorkSafeBC said an employee with Outdoor Adventures Whistler received compensation after he was required to shoot the dogs, but it declined to identify the manager who was responsible for the killing.
The report says the employee, who lived at the same location as the dogs, handled hundreds of dogs. Occasionally he euthanized animals, using a gun, with the support of a veterinarian.
In April, 2010, his job was to cull the herd of about 300 by about 100 dogs. A veterinarian was contacted but refused to euthanize healthy animals. Attempts were made to adopt out the dogs, but with only limited success.
The report states the employee had killed more than a dozen dogs when he came to Suzie, the mother of his family’s pet dog, Bumble. The blast from his gun wounded her horribly, and her screams of pain made him drop the leash. Eventually he had to use a gun with a scope to finish her off at a distance. Other dogs attacked him when he went to retrieve the body.
The employee told WorkSafeBC he performed what he described as “execution-style” killings, where he wrestled the dogs to the ground and stood on them with one foot to shoot them.
Incidents on April 23 were worse, the report says. About 20 minutes after he shot a dog named Nora, he noticed that she was crawling around a mass grave he had dug for the animals.
After hearing about the mass slaughter, the BC SPCA, who have authority in B.C. to make recommendations on prosecution to Crown counsel, launched an investigation. The SPCA began its investigation into the killings Monday. SPCA spokeswoman Marcie Moriarty said she believes the killings are Criminal Code offences.
The employee’s lawyer, Corey Steinberg, declined Monday to comment on the case or reveal the identity of his client. The company stated in a news release that the employee was the general manager and he had ceased managing the business not long after the events in late April.
Significant changes were made after the events of last April to ensure humane treatment of the dogs and improve safety protocols, the company also stated. Any dogs requiring euthanasia are taken to a veterinarian’s office and no firearms are on the site, the release says.
With a report from Niamh Scallan
SPCA investigates slaughter of 100 Whistler sled dogs
Police are also investigating
By Kim Pemberton, Vancouver Sun February 1, 2011 Comments (30)
The “execution-style” mass cull of 100 sled dogs owned by Whistler-based Outdoor Adventures has sparked an SPCA investigation into allegations of animal cruelty, outrage from animal welfare groups and suspension by Tourism Whistler of reservations for dog sledding excursions by the company.
The cull came to light because of a successful WorkSafeBC claim for post-traumatic stress by the employee who killed the dogs over two days last April.
The worker said he suffered panic attacks and nightmares because of the grisly scenes that unfolded as he carried out the company’s orders to kill 100 of its 300 dogs because of a slow winter season.
Many were killed in mass shootings, carried out in front of each other, that caused the dogs to panic and attack him.
“By the end he was covered in blood,” according to the review board’s Jan. 25 decision that found he did suffer post-traumatic stress. “When he finished he cleared up the mess, filled in the mass grave and tried to bury the memories as deeply as he could.”
Five days after the final culling, he sought treatment from a clinical counsellor who indicated he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The animal cruelty investigation came to light after WorkSafeBC’s Jan. 25 decision was made public.
The full report, by review officer Allan Wotherspoon, obtained by The Vancouver Sun, stated the worker’s “employer did not protest acceptance of the claim” nor did they provide any evidence to counter the worker’s declaration “thus I accept the worker’s account of what occurred with reservation.”
Wotherspon found the “‘mass cull’ was unique in its size, not only in respect of the workers’ experience but in all of Canada.”
Outdoors Adventures, which also offers snowmobiling, snowshoeing and horseback excursions in the Whistler area, did not return repeated phone calls from The Sun.
However, a statement by Outdoor Adventures spokesman Graham Aldcroft said there are now no firearms on site and any time a sled dog is euthanized in the future, it will be done in a vet’s office.
“While we were aware of the relocation and euthanization of dogs at “Howling Dog Tours,” we were completely unaware of the details of the incident until reading the WCB document Sunday,” he stated in the release.
Outdoor Adventures had a financial stake in ‘Howling Dogs’ which is owned by 29-year-old Joey Houssian, whom Piqué Magazine identifies as the son of Intrawest scion Joe Houssian. He is also listed as a director with Outdoor Adventures, which was incorporated in 1997.
Tourism Whistler, the official marketing and sales body for the resort, has suspended reservations for dog sledding activities with the company.
It is also offering money back to anyone who has already booked a dog sled tour with the company, said senior manager of communications Breton Murphy.
He said it’s too early to say whether the dog-cruelty allegations will hurt tourism generally to Whistler.
Marcie Moriarty, head of the BC SPCA cruelty investigations division, said the employee, who was the general manager at the time with Outdoor Adventures in Whistler, could have simply said no when his employer ordered him to kill the dogs.
The man said in a written declaration to the WorkSafeBC review that he had “developed a strong emotional bond of mutual love and trust with” the dogs before carrying out the “execution-style” mass cull over two days.
“I’ve no doubt he has suffered post traumatic stress but there’s a thing called choice,” said Moriarty. “I absolutely would not have done this and he could have said no. This is a Criminal Code offence … I don’t feel sorry for this guy for one minute.”
Moriarty said the man chose to shoot and kill the dogs on April 21 and April 23 inhumanely.
“The way this employee describes it — it’s a massacre absolutely — a criminal code offence. These dogs were killed in front of the other dogs that were all tethered up on the compound [where the dogs are kept for Outdoor Adventures].”
The BC SPCA animal cruelty investigators plan to execute a search warrant to try to obtain further information about the culling.
Police are also investigating. “We’ve opened a police file and assigned an investigator,” RCMP Sgt. Steve LeClair told reporters.
Murphy said that after he heard details of the allegations against the dog sled company, “to call it tragic is an understatement.”
“We’ve had a number of visitors contacting us and saying they’re concerned about this operator … We’ve talked to the operator and they understand what we’re doing.
“It makes sense to us to have a suspension on the sales [of dog sledding] through our channels. We’re trying to be appropriate and show due diligence until the allegations have been investigated … We have to watch and wait.”
Murphy said Tourism Whistler has been helping market the dog sled tours for the past six years and will continue to market Outdoor Adventures’ other activities except dog sledding.
He said visitors can still take dog sleds with two other companies — Canadian Snowmobile and Blackcomb Snowmobile.
The WorkSafeBC report states the employee, who had known a lot of the dogs and even named many of them, lived with them and cared for them seven days a week, Part of his duties including occasionally euthanizing animals, who were old, ill, injured or where there were unwanted puppies.
“All prior culls were done with the support and approval of a veterinarian,” the man stated in a written declaration to the review.
“A veterinarian was contacted, but refused to euthanize healthy animals. Attempts were made to adopt out the dogs with only limited success.”
The report did not state by what means the company or the worker tried to find alternative homes for the sled dogs.
But over a two-day period in late April, 2010 he agreed to carry out the orders from his employer to euthanize some of them because part of his job duties “included herd control.” But what made it difficult for him this time was the large number of animals involved.
“In the past, his practice when euthanizing a dog was to take it for a walk in the woods and give them a nice meat meal to distract them. That would make for a calm environment and kept the dogs away from the general population so as not to disrupt them. He would use a gun to euthanize the dogs,” the report states.
However, because of the large number of dogs he said he was forced to euthanize the dogs in full view of the other dogs and by about the 15th dog it appeared to him “the dogs were experiencing anxiety and stress from observing the euthanasia of other members of the pack and were panicking.”
His family physician also indicated the worker, who resides at the same location as the dogs with his family, complained of “panic attacks, nightmares, sleep disturbances, anger, irritability and depressed mood since culling approximately 100 dogs.” In addition to the post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, he exhibited “dissociative symptoms.”
Moriarty said from what she’s read so far in the report “many people will be shocked” not only about the culling but how sled dogs are treated in general.
“There is a problem with the sled dog industry in general. People see these 20 sled dogs, an idyllic setting with snow in the background and think how great. But what they don’t see is the 200 dogs tethered and sleeping out back, chained to a barrel.”
She said from reading the report, it appears the request was made to kill the dogs because of a downturn in the business after the Olympics on the compound of Outdoor Adventures.
“What do they do when they don’t have the money to feed them all? When the dogs aren’t needed. The order to simply put them down is not acceptable.”
She said the SPCA plans to uncover the mass grave to examine the dogs’ remains but can’t do that immediately because the ground is frozen under several feet of snow.
Moriarty said she’s “glad a light is finally being shed on this industry. I just shudder whenever I see the ads for sled dog tours because I know how the majority of dogs are living. There are a few good operations but on a smaller scale.”
Vancouver Humane Society spokesman Peter Fricker said this isn’t the first time sled dogs have been hurt or killed by sled dog companies in Canada. He said the SPCA in Tumbler Ridge seizeed 34 badly neglected sled dogs in 2009.
“Our experience in every case where people use animals to make money and when there are financial difficulties the animals’ lives are put at risk.”
Fricker said the time has come for an outright ban on sled dog companies.
The NDP released a press release calling for the B.C. Liberals to begin funding animal protection work done by the BC SPCA, the only provincial body with specific authority to investigate animal cruelty complaints. The government provides zero dollars to animal protection.
David Greer, communications director with the Ministry of Citizens’ Services and Agriculture, said in an email to The Sun late Monday that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was amended in 2008 to stiffen potential penalties for those convicted of causing distress to an animal.
“The courts are now able to impose a lifetime ban on owning or possessing animals, up to six months in jail, and a fine of up to $5,000 for a first offence and $10,000 for any repeat offences.
“The amendments have also strengthened the authority of agents to seize evidence of an offence and take animals into custody.”
Video link: Sled dogs chained outdoors at Outdoor Adventures: