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Exhumation of sled dog grave underway

Investigation may take weeks as forensic experts comb gravesite



The B.C. SPCA started this week to exhume a site believed to be the mass grave of up to 100 sled dogs killed last spring near Whistler.

"They are continuing to excavate and clear the site..realistically it's just at the clearing stage," said Marcie Moriarty, the general manager of the SPCA's cruelty investigations.

"Because of the length of time that has passed since the incident occurred, it is necessary to employ painstaking, state-of-the-art forensic techniques to gather the evidence that will be required to present to Crown (counsel) to hopefully see charges laid in this particular case."

The top two inches of soil from the gravesite has been removed by backhoes. As of May 3, no evidence of canine remains had been found. Once any carcasses are visible the rest of the exhumation will be done by hand. It is expected to take three to four days for the work to be completed.

Experts will be looking for bone fragments, remains, shell casings, knives, bleed-out sites and other forensic evidence.

Some of the remains will be X-rayed and where appropriate a necropsy will be carried out.

Moriarty expects that all 26 B.C. SPCA investigators will be involved assisting an international dream-team of forensic specialists including veterinarian Dr. Melinda Merck, and entomologist Dr. Gail Anderson. Their combined expertise includes experience with the Robert Pickton case, the identification of the Green River serial murder victims as well as working on mass graves in places such as Rwanda.

Moriarty said the investigation is expected to cost $225,000 with $100,000 coming from the government. The rest has to be raised by the organization.

Many of the experts are donating their services.

It is important that the investigation is done properly and thoroughly said Moriarty.

"We must take clear action in a case of this magnitude and brutality," she said.

"We owe it to the 100 sled dogs that are buried in that mass grave to ensure that this type of tragedy is never repeated in B.C."

Moriarty added that only by carrying out the investigation could a clear message be sent to other businesses that use animals for profit that humane standards must be adhered to and that animals are not disposable.

"If we don't stand up and speak up for those who can't speak for themselves what other case are we going to stand up for," she said.

"These animals died needlessly and it is essential to send a message that when companies are using animals for profit that they can't just discard them when they have ended their supposedly useful lives.

"This case could lead to higher standards for animal welfare throughout Canada in all animal related industries."

She admitted that it may be difficult to determine cause of deaths especially as it is likely that the site was also used to buy sled dogs euthanized in culls previous to the one that took place last April 21 to 23.

The cull last year came to light after documents from WorkSafe B.C. were leaked to the media.

The documents, part of a claim for financial compensation, signed and submitted by Robert Fawcett, described how he allegedly shot or stabbed up to 100 dogs to death then buried them.

The RCMP and the SPCA are currently investigating Outdoor Adventures Whistler Ltd. over the alleged slaughter of the dogs, which were used by subcontractor Howling Dog Tours Whistler Inc. Fawcett ran Howling Dog Tours Whistler - Outdoors' sled dog contractor. Outdoors had a financial stake in the dog sled company at the time of the alleged killings. It now owns the dog sled company.

Outdoors admitted previously that it knew a number of the dogs were to be culled but for quality of life reasons.

Outdoor Adventures has suspended its sled dog tours until the investigation into the slaughter is complete. It is unclear if the company will continue the tours in the future or shut down that arm of the company for good.

If charges are laid it will be under the Criminal Code relating to causing unnecessary pain and suffering to animals. If convicted perpetrators could face up to five years in jail.

With files from Susan Hollis