A heartwarming final chapter to the Whistler Sled dog Massacre
By Rod Clough
Over the course of a 3 day period, in April of 2010 the dogsled tour General Manager of Outdoor Adventures/Whistler Sled dog Company named Robert Fawcett pulled the trigger on what would turn out to be one of the saddest animal cruelty cases in Canada. Right there, in plain view of all of his hard working sled dogs that served him, he shot 56 of them, and one by one threw their lifeless bodies in a hole. It wasn’t quite that simple however, as the panicked dogs rebelled against him and turned a mass cull into an execution style “slaughter”. It was not until some months later that the Country learned of this tragedy, when the WCB report that he filed due to stress caused by this very act somehow got out. Canada then became an “international embarrassment” as the world learned of this, and wanted answers. The unimaginable stress, panic and betrayal that those dogs experienced is very hard to even think about to this day. There is so much more to this story, and a quick internet search will provide all of the details if you want to spiral yourself into depression, but through all of it I am very pleased to report on how some fantastic individuals have turned this “tragedy” around and given the dogs that survived the good lives that they deserve.
In December of 2011 a small group of people from Whistler Animals Galore (WAG) dedicated to the wellbeing of these dogs, accepted responsibility for the Outdoor Adventure kennel which had already experienced significant improvements (post Robert Fawcett) and had been reduced to 178 working dogs (from around 300 originally). Maintaining in good faith that working dogs were best suited “working” they began a dogsled company called the Whistler Sled Dog Company with the goal of keeping the dogs fulfilled, maintaining financial stability, with any possible profits going towards funding other animal welfare projects. They started to work right away with Whistler Animals Galore (WAG) rehoming the dogs, to reduce the amount they had to ensure each dog could receive the attention and care that they deserved. What they discovered as they got to know and understand these dogs, was that they didn’t necessarily need to be “working” to be happy. The dogs
turned out to have such great personalities, and it soon became apparent that finding good homes for them was a realistic option.
For a period of two winters they ran a successful dogsled operation in Whistler, with fantastic local support from the community. Unfortunately they discovered it to be very difficult to be at all profitable while maintaining a high standard for the dogs, the short season and resultant 7 month “off” season being a major factor. After careful consideration, they felt it best for the dogs to discontinue the operation and focus on finding good “forever” homes for them. I recently had the good fortune to talk to Penny Stone who has been working with the Whistler Sled dog Company assisting with the care and rehoming of the Whistler Sled dogs. Here is what she had to say.
To start off, could you tell us a little bit about how things have gone up there over the past few months?
It has been a little crazy. When Whistler Sled Dog Company took over the kennels we had a lot of dogs to get to know and we wanted to increase their enrichment so we decided to have someone at the kennel 24/7 instead of just the 8 hour day shifts that had been happening so far. We were working on getting all the dogs out in free roaming situations so that they were able to get the play time/exercise that chained or penned dogs don’t get to engage in. These dogs are amazing socially so it was a lot easier for the girls that were working there than it would be with “regular” dogs! We just needed to start working on their “real life” situations, things as simple as walking on leash, getting used to crowds, cars etc….
How many dogs are still available for adoption?
Right now there are 25 dogs that we need to find “forever homes” for.
Are there any dogs still up at the mountain?
As of last month we removed all the dogs from the mountain. The reasons were two fold. We had someone staying up there sleeping in a tent for the last four months and as it was getting colder and we were getting down to the final dogs left (about 30) we felt that putting them into foster/shelter situations where they could learn more skills to increase their adoptability would be the obvious next step. The dogs were doing amazing up on the mountain, but realistically, the final 30 needed more rehab, (as the easier ones had been adopted out already) and we couldn’t do it with all of them at the site with limited resources. These dogs needed one on one training to bring them to the next step…ADOPTION in to their forever homes!
That is great to hear Penny, I understand that there have been some outstanding people that have stepped up to the plate to help. I was most impressed to learn that through all of this volunteers (including yourself) have been sleeping up there with the dogs.
The people involved in this were some of the most amazing people I have been lucky enough to meet in my lifetime…Sue Eckersely and Kim Clarke gave up years of their lives to make sure the right thing was done by these dogs. Angela Fulton and Jess Gibson lived with, worked with and breathed Whistler Sled Dogs for about 4 months. They worked a 8 hour day and then volunteered their time spending the rest of the day/nights with the dogs so they would never be alone! They gave up their lives for four months to do the right thing. Shannon Broderick of WAG, she was the one who brought us all together. She knew this was going to be a big project so she contacted us and put us together as a team. I was lucky enough to meet these women and get to work with them on this project. I was even fortunate enough to spend an evening alone, sleeping at the site, with 43 dogs and it was an amazing experience. I remember when I asked why the tent they slept in on the mountain was over the graves of the slaughtered dogs, I was shocked that they had put it there. But the answer summed up who these women were…the answer was simple..”We put it there so when we sleep at night we keep the dogs (that had died
on that spot) souls safe” ….that broke me, I cried and cried, but it made it an honor to sleep there and keep their souls safe.
Could you tell us a bit more about these amazing dogs and their personalities? Is there any special requirements needed for someone considering adopting one of them?
These are simply the most amazing dogs I have ever met. I had worked in a shelter for over 10 years and place more than 600 dogs a year. I had seen so many hoarding and seizing situations that I thought nothing could surprise me. These dogs did. The first time I visited the site, (almost two years ago) they were mostly on chains and my heart broke. But to see the way they interacted with me and were so gentle simply amazed me. It was that day that I knew I had to help these dogs. I knew they all deserved a home of their own and I was determined to help see it happen. These dogs are so social, with both dogs and people. As anyone that works with dogs, that is 90% of the problems you see in dogs, not just in shelters, but in everyday life. Socialization is everything. So these dogs start out in a better place than most dogs I have tried to rehome. What they do lack is experience. Things like being in a house, walking up stairs, cars, bikes…all sorts of everyday occurrences. So when they get adopted, it takes time for them to adjust. People need to take their time and introduce them to new things in a very positive way.They will be a little fearful at the beginning but with proper safe introductions to new experiences they adapt well and quite quickly!
If a person would like to know more about possibly adopting one of these dogs, how would they contact you?
As we have all of these dogs in shelters or foster homes at this time, I can be contacted at: email@example.com and I can talk to them and help direct anyone to the dog that would
suit their lifestyle and work best for them and
Thank you for taking the time out to talk to us Penny! My heart goes out to you, and all the fantastic people that have either volunteered their time, have assisted financially, or have taken one of these dogs into their home. It is extremely satisfying and a huge relief to me personally (and I am sure with our readers) to know that these amazing dogs have received the love, care, and attention that has been given to them in light of what they had to go through.
Great Job all of you!
Bio of Penny Stone
I have always had a crazy love of animals, bringing home strays and injured animals my whole life. I went to work for the BCSPCA in Victoria 10 years ago and loved being able to make a difference in so many animals lives. I have been involved with many hoarding and seizure situations while working for the BCSPCA and loved rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming these animals after they came to us. There is nothing so rewarding as seeing the change you can make in an animal’s eyes by just being there and caring for them.
Animals are so amazing and they have the ability to trust, even when, as a human race, we haven’t always been deserving. After my career with the BCSPCA came to an end I was thrilled to be asked to be part of the Whistler Sled Dog Team. From the first time I had been to the site many years ago, and saw these poor dogs who had witnessed such atrocities, I knew I needed to help. It has been an honor to help these dogs take the next step in their lives, and find loving caring homes where they can start on the new life they so richly deserve.