Update from Canada on the Sled Dog Inquiry and Criminal Investigation

In the previous winter issue of Sled Dog, I described how my first Malamute, Yukon Sally, led the writing of my fifth novel, City Wolves. An unusual kind of novel for me, it is historical fiction, telling the story of Canada’s first woman veterinarian, who became the notorious Dog Doctor of Halifax ( Nova Scotia) in the 1890s. After her unusual marriage ends abruptly in Boston, she goes to the Yukon seeking the legendary sled dogs, arriving in Dawson City at the beginning of the Klondike gold rush. At the heart of the novel is the ancient story of how a Malamute speaking Inuit couple, Ike and Piji, steal wolf pups and eventually produce the sled dogs now known as Alaskan Malamutes. That is the basic story of how wolves became sled dogs throughout Arctic North America.
With Yukon Sally in the lead, I did a lot of first hand as well as library research into the history, heritage, and current treatment of sled dogs in Canada. I have seen what goes on in western and eastern Arctic communities as well as in the south.
Like everyone in Canada and other countries, I was shocked and appalled, last February 1st when news broke out that from 40-100 sled dogs had been shot and knived to death then thrown into a hidden mass grave at Whistler, British Colombia, because they were no longer needed after the winter Olympics 2010. Bob Fawcett, manager of those sled dogs, had confessed to the massacre, claiming he was ordered to do it by his employer, the Whistler based Howling Dog Tours, and he wanted compensation for the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder he claims to have as a result of doing the deed over a two day period in April 2010.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police immediately launched a criminal investigation and the British Columbia Government set up a Task Force Inquiry into the dog sledding industry in B.C. Yukon Sally, alive now only in spirit, nodded and pawed in approval when I was selected to serve on the Inquiry, along with famous dog sledders, the head of B.C.’s S.P.C.A., animal rights representatives and others. The Task Force Report was released on April 5th.
As I reported in more detail in the 2011 summer Sled Dog, the Report recommended increased penalties of up to $75,000 and two year imprisonment for the most serious crimes of cruelty to animals. The profound change for the sled dog industry is the recommendation of establishing clear and regulated standards of sled dog care, including food, shelter, exercise, veterinary care and provision of retirement for sled dogs, with annual inspections to ensure the standards are met.
Also that a sled dog association be established with members having to meet the set standards of sled dog care and that there be annual inspections by veterinarians or SPCA constables.
The premier of B.C. declared that all the Report’s recommendations be implemented. And as of October 2011, they actually have been! Unusually fast and efficient government work. The hitch is that the annual inspections apply only to dog sledding companies operating on Crown Land. Most commercial dog sledding in B.C. does take place on Crown Land.

The criminal case against those responsible for the sled dog killings is a much slower process. The evidence gathered has to be thorough, the case must stand up to all cross questioning. This case has inspired such widespread outrage that the RCMP and SPCA were able to gather an international team of top forensic experts, experts experienced in investigating human murder scenes, unearthing mass graves and genocidal killing fields in Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq. Many of these international forensic professionals worked for free or drastically reduced fees.
In May, when the ground at Whistler was thawing, they found 56 sled dog corpses apparent in the mass grave. The bodies were excavated by the forensic scientists, examined by veterinarians and guarded by SPCA constables. The professionally assembled evidence was ‘brought to Crown’ in early autumn.
‘Crown’ has not yet revealed what charges are to be laid, when or if the case will be brought to trial. It is a case that will continue to be treated with the utmost gravity and attention. Canadians will see it through, like a proper team of Malamutes.

Dorris Heffron
Author of City Wolves (available on Amazon and as an e-book)