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A closer look at the Whistler, BC sled dog industry

Updated on July 8, 2015
The headstone placed at November 2, 2012 burial
The headstone placed at November 2, 2012 burial
Outdoor Adventures at Whistler Ltd., the parent company of Howling Dog Tours Whistler Inc.
Outdoor Adventures at Whistler Ltd., the parent company of Howling Dog Tours Whistler Inc.
Whistler Dogsledding guide Bob Fawcett and guests
Whistler Dogsledding guide Bob Fawcett and guests
Whistler's Bob Fawcett (centre) is pictured here in the Incredible Skijoring competition during the Purina Dog Challenge in Whistler in January, 2010
Whistler's Bob Fawcett (centre) is pictured here in the Incredible Skijoring competition during the Purina Dog Challenge in Whistler in January, 2010
Bob Fawcett on the trail Skijoring, Bootleg Sled Dog Races
Bob Fawcett on the trail Skijoring, Bootleg Sled Dog Races
Bob Fawcett on the trail in the 4-dog Open Class, Bootleg Sled Dog Races
Bob Fawcett on the trail in the 4-dog Open Class, Bootleg Sled Dog Races
Bob Fawcett in the 4-dog Open Class at the  2010 Bootleg Sled Dog Races in Kimberley, B.C. in early February 2010
Bob Fawcett in the 4-dog Open Class at the 2010 Bootleg Sled Dog Races in Kimberley, B.C. in early February 2010
Bob Fawcett in the 6-dog Open Class, Bootleg Sled Dog Races
Bob Fawcett in the 6-dog Open Class, Bootleg Sled Dog Races
This photo of Bob Fawcett at the February 2011 Bootleg Sled Dog Races is posted on their website
This photo of Bob Fawcett at the February 2011 Bootleg Sled Dog Races is posted on their website


Lush cosmetics sold the special edition "Paws" soap at its B.C. stores, including the Whistler Village location
Lush cosmetics sold the special edition "Paws" soap at its B.C. stores, including the Whistler Village location

Lush Cosmetics 'Paws and Listen' campaign

(past promotion)

Lush Cosmetics is collaborating with the Vancouver Humane Society in a campaign called "Paws and Listen" to demand a ban on dog sled races in British Columbia. Lush stores in the province will have leaflets explaining how sled dogs suffer because of the industry. You can also help the cause by purchasing the limited edition PAWS soap online, all proceeds will be donated to the VHS for this cause.


Here's yet another perspective to the April 2010 dog cull in Whistler, British Columbia. I'm adding my two cents to the media circus that has captured the world's attention.

The case of the sled dogs brutally slaughtered by their owner Bob Fawcett on April 21 and 23, 2010 has infuriated people all over the world, not just animal lovers. The man pictured as a top champion in his sport and one of the Board of Directors of Mush With P.R.I.D.E. (Providing Responsible Information on a Dog’s Environment) took extreme measures to get rid of his dogs. It's simply bizarre. Of course we are curious. We want to know if he acted out of desperation, then why.

This was not the first time Bob Fawcett has been in the news. An April 2009 news article in The Whistler Question (a news website serving the Whistler and Pemberton communities) reported that Dr. David Lane of Coast Mountain Veterinary Services checked out the Whistler sled dog operations in response to complaints to the local SPCA.

The SPCA’s Eileen Drever told 'The Question' last week that she’s dealing with a couple of ongoing investigations in regard to how Whistler-area sled dogs are kept. Two women who took separate tours with Blackcomb Snowmobiles in January wrote letters to Whistler’s mayor and council expressing concerns about the thin, bony appearance of some dogs as well as their cowering demeanour and other health concerns.

Dr. Lane said he supports the idea of SPCA officers checking out local sled dog operations, but he doesn’t see any “huge problems” in the Whistler-area industry. Just because the SPCA is checking things out doesn’t mean there’s “a horror story going on,” he said.

The article goes on the say that The Question received an e-mail from a reader who told a similar story, another sled dog tour customer.

Patricia Watson wrote that she was “horrified” to see dogs that were “extremely underweight, had horrible diarrhoea and bleeding paws” when she took a tour booked through the Hilton in February.

Mr. Fawcett then contacted The Question with a response

Bob Fawcett of Whistler Dogsledding, which provides dogs to Outdoor Adventures Whistler, has been in the Whistler industry for about a decade.

He said he’s worked with the SPCA in the past and has improved his operation based on their suggestions, such as providing the dogs with toys. But recent SPCA visits have been sporadic, unannounced and full of “anger and anxiety,” he said.

Dr. Lane does four kennel visits a year and those reports are sent to the SPCA. Fawcett said he would prefer to have the SPCA officers deal directly with Dr. Lane to monitor his Pemberton-area kennel.

Whistler Dogsledding currently has about 320 dogs, which Fawcett admits sounds like a lot, but he estimates the company does about 90 per cent of the tour volume in Whistler. He refuses to run each dog more than twice a day, and they work two days on, one day off.

Fawcett is vice president of Mush With Pride, an organization that outlines standards for the care of sled dogs.

Sounds like all was well.

But news reports revealed that Bob Fawcett had also been treated for post traumatic stress disorder in late 2009 for euthanizing a number of dogs according to his worker's compensation records.

From what we've read the reason why the mass cull became public knowledge is because Mr. Fawcett included gory details in his second worker's compensation filing to explain his mental state since his first filing was rejected.

He also participated on a PTSD forum for soldiers to reach out for support using his own name. In a message posted on January 6, 2011, he wrote

"I have owned a large dogsled company for the last 15 years. As the economy turned, we were forced to sell to a corporation two years ago. They did nothing but complain about costs and were not willing to sell some of the herd because they wanted all the animals on deck 'in case' it was busy. We had 330 dogs."

"I was told the company was going to fold unless we took drastic action . . . immediate disposal of half the herd . . .

"I reluctantly agreed to the job . . . I was told I had two days to get the job done due to a large tour group we had coming."

[Source: Victoria will probe sled-dog deaths, Montreal Gazette]

If he had kept it all under wraps, he'd be fine. But he got sloppy.

It is a known fact that ... Sled dog operators admit that killing animals once they're no longer of value to the business is common practice in the industry. It is legal in Canada to euthanize an animal, as long as it is in a way considered humane. [Source: No need to kill sled dogs, operator says ]

Perhaps Mr. Fawcett has been ousted by his industry peers (see article) not because of the heinous act itself. But because he has now brought the industry under international scrutiny – and potentially damage business for other Whistler dogsledding companies. He's become a liability. It wouldn't be a far-fetched reason in a dog-eat-dog business, would it.

Photos taken by SPCA investigator Eleanor Matthews in Jan. 2000 of some of 73 sled dogs then under the care of Bob Fawcett of Howling Dog Tours
Photos taken by SPCA investigator Eleanor Matthews in Jan. 2000 of some of 73 sled dogs then under the care of Bob Fawcett of Howling Dog Tours
Outdoor Adventures voluntarily suspended operations of dogsled tours, this page is no longer on its website
Outdoor Adventures voluntarily suspended operations of dogsled tours, this page is no longer on its website

VIDEO: Bob Fawcett at the Purina Incredible Skijoring Competition, Whistler-Blackcomb (Jan 2010)

SPCA constables and anthropologists exhume bodies of sled dogs
SPCA constables and anthropologists exhume bodies of sled dogs


On May 5, 2011 B.C. SPCA investigators removed 56 bodies from the sled dog grave near Whistler before leaving the site — a total that was well short of the 100 that many expected to be found.

Marcie Moriarty, general manager of cruelty investigations for the B.C. SPCA, said that the team of SPCA constables, veterinarians and forensic experts were finished with the exhumation of bodies by the end of Monday (May 9).

“The WorkSafe document referred to 70 to 100 dogs. We found 56 and I can’t speculate on what 56 means,” Moriarty said Tuesday (May 10). “It will take a few weeks to get the forensic reports in and present the evidence to Crown counsel, then it will be up to Crown to determine if there’s sufficient evidence to pursue charges.”

When asked Tuesday about the possibility of multiple graves, Moriarty said she couldn’t comment but did say, “I can assure you we have done a thorough investigation.”

Moriarty gave a first update on the investigation in a Sunday (May 8) press conference but said she could not reveal specific details about what was found in the grave in order to “preserve the integrity of the investigation.”

“While we can’t discuss the specific evidence at this point in the investigation, we can disclose that new information has come to light through the exhumation of the bodies in the mass grave that has significant implications for the future welfare of sled dogs across Canada,” she said Sunday, noting that the dogs will at some point be given a proper burial.

“We believe that justice will be done in this case and these dogs will finally rest in peace.”


Interview with anonymous person "Mary" who Bob Fawcett confided in
Interview with anonymous person "Mary" who Bob Fawcett confided in
Marcie Moriarity, general manager of cruelty investigations for the BC SPCA
Marcie Moriarity, general manager of cruelty investigations for the BC SPCA


"The findings will be in by the end of August, it's just we've been working with Crown and our constables... well, it's summer, unfortunately, so charges will be in and hopefully there will be a decision sometime in September from Crown," said BCSPCA spokesperson Marcie Moriarity.

"It depends on Crown's schedule, we've been working with them quite closely so it may be a faster decision but who knows, it is a big case."



August 16, 2011

The BC SPCA will be recommending cruelty charges under the criminal code against the man who admitted to slaughtering dozens of sled dogs in Whistler following the 2010 Winter Olympics.

If the charges are approved, Robert Fawcett, former manager of dog sled firm Outdoor Adventures, faces five years in prison or a $10,000 fine for shooting the dogs execution-style or slitting their throats.

Marcie Moriarty, general manager for SPCA cruelty investigations, said the agency has finished its investigation into the cull and unearthed the remains of 52 dogs – or roughly half the number initially reported.



December 15, 2011

A not-for-profit foundation has been created to take over the dog-sledding operations of Outdoor Adventures Whistler (OAW), the local company that was part of the controversy earlier this year surrounding an alleged mass killing of dogs in the Whistler area in 2010.

Called the Sled Dog Foundation, the organization was recently established with an independent board of directors that includes animal shelter board members, a local vet and others.

Joey Houssian, owner of OAW, has donated all assets of the company’s dog-sledding operation to the new foundation, which will run local tours on a not-for-profit basis, according to a press release issued Wednesday (Dec. 14). OAW’s dogs, kennels, equipment and land leases have all been turned over to the foundation.

The charity will now own and manage the sledding operation, with proceeds going towards the improvement of animal welfare for sled dogs, the release states. OAW will lend support and expertise as the foundation gets up and running.

“The allegations about how the sled dogs were treated came as a great shock to me and my staff,” Houssian said in the release. “Since then, and after significant research and consultation with animal welfare experts, academics and others, my team concluded that we would try to influence positive change for the industry and for the welfare of sled dogs.

“We believe the creation of this foundation is the best way to achieve this.”

With the popularity of dog-sledding tours in Whistler, it’s expected significant funds will be raised to support animal welfare efforts, commented Kirby Brown, OAW’s vice president.

Local board members include Sue Eckersley, who also serves on the board of the local animal shelter Whistler Animals Galore (WAG), and Dr. David Lane, who owns Coast Mountain Veterinary Hospital and has worked with local dog-sledding operators for 19 years.

“The sled dog business will provide a committed source of ongoing funding for various animal welfare programs and will be the basis for research on sled dog behaviour and care. Everything the foundation learns from its work will be made available to sled dog operators around the world to improve their operations for the benefit of their animals,” Eckersley said in the release.

Stephanie McDonald, CEO of the board of the Edmonton Humane Society, is also a member of the foundation’s board, while animal behaviourist Dr. Rebecca Ledger will serve in an advisory capacity.



February 20, 2012

Vancouver Humane Society says dogs will continue to suffer and be needlessly killed

The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) says the care standards for sled dogs, announced today [February 20, 2012] by the B.C. government, have completely failed to address the dogs' welfare problems.

Under the standards sled dogs will still be tethered for long periods and can still be shot if they are unwanted and cannot be rehomed. In addition, the standards provide no resources for on-site inspections or enforcement of the regulations.

"The standards are a travesty," says VHS executive director Debra Probert. "What is the point of having regulations if there is no funding for enforcement?" Probert says dogs will continue to suffer from poor conditions at isolated sled dog operations. "The tethering of dogs for long periods is inhumane and unacceptable, yet this will continue under the new regulations."

The new standards allow operators to kill sled dogs if they have "made reasonable efforts to rehome the sled dog, but those efforts have been unsuccessful." Probert says this means dogs will remain at risk of being killed when they are surplus to an operator's requirements.



April 20, 2012

Crown counsel announced charges of animal cruelty (Criminal Code, Section 445.1(1) (a)) against Bob Fawcett, former general manager of the Whistler-based Howling Dog Tours, for causing unnecessary pain and suffering to a number of sled dogs in April 2010. His first court appearance is scheduled for May 24 in Pemberton.



August 30, 2012

The man charged in connection with the slaughter of 56 dogs near Whistler, B.C., two years ago has pleaded guilty to the single count of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal.

Robert Fawcett entered the plea through his lawyer during a brief appearance in North Vancouver Provincial Court on Thursday.

Sentencing is postponed until November 22.The Crown has asked for a psychological assessment, which Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie says will provide the court with "a better understanding of what took place."

It is too early to discuss the Crown's "position on sentence or the specific circumstances that will be alleged," Mr. MacKenzie said.

Mr. Fawcett, who faces a maximum penalty of five years, left the courthouse refusing to speak with media.


BC SPCA remembers the Whistler sled dogs
BC SPCA remembers the Whistler sled dogs

Sled dogs laid to rest


November 3, 2012

'Animal lovers vowed Friday (November 2) to continue their fight against animal cruelty in memory of the 56 sled dogs slaughtered in the Whistler area in 2010.

The dogs were given a permanent resting place on the outskirts of Penticton at a pet cemetery owned by the B.C. SPCA.

"You (dogs) will never be forgotten, and we pledge that in your memories that we will fight any form of animal cruelty and abuse," B.C. SPCA president Marylee Davies told more than 200 mourners who attended Friday's 25-minute ceremony.

Many mourners brought their own dogs. Some of the mourners wore T-shirts that read "Justice for the Whistler sled dogs." Fifty-six stones were placed individually on a memorial stone that read "In loving memory of the Whistler sled dogs."

Some mourners, wiping away tears, placed flowers and other mementos beside the marker.
Craig Daniell, chief executive officer of the B.C. SPCA, said the intention was always to give the dogs a proper burial site after forensic experts were done examining the animals' remains. Penticton was chosen as the final resting place because it is the site of only one of three pet cemeteries owned by the B.C. SPCA.

The pet cemetery is located south of the city at White Lake Road and Partington Drive.
"Even though this tragedy occurred in the Whistler area, these dogs belong to the province," Daniell said in an interview.

"The dogs came from all over B.C., and it was important for us to have them laid to rest in a forestry-type setting, such as here, and in a place where other people's dogs and cats, who also touched the lives of their owners, are buried."

Daniell conducted the service, which concluded with a dedication read by the crowd and then a moment of silence.

He was pleased with the large turnout.

"It's wonderful to see the outpouring of support for these animals and that so many people were able to come and pay their last respects for what was a truly horrific event," he said.

He said the event captured international headlines and that although it placed a black mark on B.C., he believes others have learned as the result of the tragedy.

Fawcett could face a maximum of five years in prison and $75,000 in fines in the case.
The Crown prosecutor has requested a psychological assessment.

Daniell said the decision is out of the hands of the B.C. SPCA and that jail sentences are rare in animal cruelty cases.

However, he said that what's most important is a lifetime ban on the ownership, custody or care of animals.



November 22, 2012

Robert Fawcett will spend the next three years under probation and not serve any jail time for his part in the killing of 54 sled dogs two years ago.

Judge Steven Merrick agreed with submissions from both the Crown and defence that did not recommend jail time as a sentence, noting Fawcett has suffered already due to the overwhelming public outcry to his actions.

"There is no question that the public denunciation and public response is an overwhelming mitigating factor in this case," said the judge, noting the Fawcett has received death threats, became a public pariah and suffered a nervous breakdown.

During probation, Merrick ordered that Fawcett not be allowed to have involvement with euthanizing animals or the sled dog industry. If he takes part in any business or commercial enterprise that involves animals while on probation he has to notify the owner of that business and show them the probation order.

The judge also imposed a $1,500 fine, with a $225 victim fine surcharge, 200 hours of community service and 10 year firearms ban.

Fawcett was given an opportunity to address the court, but did not.

Merrick had some harsh words for Fawcett while handing down his sentence at the North Vancouver Provincial Courthouse, which stayed open later to allow the proceedings to be completed.

"Failure to stop the cull when it got out of hand is an aggravating feature, Mr. Fawcett ought to have anticipated the possibility of the horrific circumstances that could result," said the judge, noting that he killed the sled dogs in front of each other. "The dogs depended on him. To a lay person like myself who is not medically trained and those of us who have had to take our pets to the veterinarian for euthanizing, it is beyond comprehension."


Demonstrators attended a sentencing for Robert Fawcett
Demonstrators attended a sentencing for Robert Fawcett

"No justice for sled dogs", says Vancouver Humane Society

The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) says the sentence given to Bob Fawcett, who killed 56 sled dogs in April 2010, is a travesty and does not reflect the level of public concern about the treatment of animals in B.C. Fawcett was today sentenced in B.C. provincial court to three years probation and received a $1500 fine for causing unnecessary pain and suffering to animals.

"The sentence should have included jail time," said VHS spokesman Peter Fricker. "A jail sentence would have sent a message to the public that animal cruelty is a serious crime that society will not tolerate." The maximum penalty for Fawcett's offence under the Criminal Code is five years imprisonment and a fine up to $10,000.

Fricker said it is equally disappointing that, despite the public outcry over the massacre of the Whistler sled dogs, it is still perfectly legal for sled dog operators to shoot unwanted dogs. It is also still legal for sled dogs to be tethered or chained outdoors for long periods, a practice VHS says is inhumane. While new regulations have been applied to the sled dog industry, no new resources have been made available to the BC SPCA to enforce them.

"The sad truth is that sled dogs will continue to be commodities open to exploitation for profit by an industry that is not known for putting their welfare first. It should be remembered that Mr. Fawcett was not just some rogue operator or bad apple," said Fricker. "He served as vice-president on the board of Mush with Pride, a leading international sled dog industry group, until he was voted off when the Whistler massacre became public knowledge. He was a well-known and leading figure in the sled dog world. Surely, that says something about the industry as a whole."

Whistler Sled Dog Foundation calling for due diligence

November 24, 2012

A sled dogs advocate wants tour companies to be careful when it comes to the future well-being of animals.

Sue Eckersley, who serves on the Board of Directors of Whistler Animals Galore, wants operators and consumers to do their part.

She hopes tour companies will keep an eye on who they work with, and hopes patrons ask the right questions.

"I think there are problems and I think when you're looking to book a dog sled tour, or be involved in that industry in that way, a little due diligence is important."

She doesn't condemn the entire industry but says there are some ways it can be improved.

Eckersley is disappointed by the three-year probation sentence given to Robert Fawcett, who pleaded guilty to the inhuman killing of nine sled dogs in Whistler in 2010.

She says there are lessons to be learned that people can carry into the future. "I hope it's not forgotten. I think it's important for consumers in the dog sled industry, that they're careful who they work with."

Eckersley says it's up to the community to ensure tragic deaths, such as these, never happen again.


Sled dogs up for adoption

August 2013

Dozens of former sled dogs that survived one of the highest-profile cases of animal cruelty in B.C. are still waiting to find homes, according to a Whistler shelter.

The Whistler Animals Galore Society has been looking for homes for sled dogs that once belonged to Outdoor Adventures.

More than 100 of the dogs have been adopted into new homes in the past year-and-a-half, but the WAG Society told CTV News Friday that there are still 45 of the animals in their Whistler kennel.

“Some of them are going to need a little bit more socialization and rehabilitation than others, but I would say the majority of these guys are adoptable, ready to go,” said WAG Executive Director Shannon Broderick.

Interest in the dogs peaked when the story first broke in 2010, but has since slowed, according to Broderick.

Though many need to be housebroken and trained from the ground up, she said adopting one of the dogs would be similar to taking in a new puppy.

“These guys require the same if not maybe a little bit less than that…they’re just companions, they just want to be with us,” she said. “Adopters definitely need to be aware that there’s going to be a level of fear in certain situations and it’s going to be anything from a cell phone to a Mach truck…just like a puppy.”

Broderick said WAG hopes to find homes for the remaining retired sled dogs by the end of September – but their Whistler kennel will stay open as long as there are animals there.

For information on how to adopt one of the former sled dogs, visit the WAG society website or email them at


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    • Tranquilheart profile image

      Tranquilheart 6 years ago from Canada

      Thanks RJ!


    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 6 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      Nicely done! I enjoyed this immensely. Gorgeous photos! 1 and awesome. RJ

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