Dogster readers, steel yourselves. This late-breaking story is a terrible and tragic one, and as more news emerges it’s sure to make headlines around the globe. Please know that the story contains graphic information, and is not suitable for everyone. In fact, I could not bring myself to write a version of it for Dogster when I learned of the story late last night, so am reprinting the text from a story the Vancouver Sun had just come out with. At the time, at least, it was the very best and most complete story out there.
Please remember that the comments area below is a good place to vent your feelings, but I’ll provide some other ways you can let your voice be heard. You’ll find them after the Sun story. I’ll warn you again. Some of you will be better off not reading this story. There’s plenty of other material on my blog today. Ignore this one, enjoy the more lighthearted ones, and move on with your day.
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 companys 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 boards 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 WorkSafeBCs Jan. 25 decision was made public.
The full report, by review officer Allan Wotherspoon, obtained by The Vancouver Sun, stated the workers employer did not protest acceptance of the claim nor did they provide any evidence to counter the workers declaration thus I accept the workers 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 vets 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 Piqu 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 its 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.
Ive no doubt he has suffered post traumatic stress but theres 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 dont 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 its 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.
Murphy said that after he heard details of the allegations against the dog sled company, to call it tragic is an understatement.
Weve had a number of visitors contacting us and saying theyre concerned about this operator … Weve talked to the operator and they understand what were doing.
It makes sense to us to have a suspension on the sales [of dog sledding] through our channels. Were 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 shes 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 dont 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 dont have the money to feed them all? When the dogs arent 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 cant do that immediately because the ground is frozen under several feet of snow.
Moriarty said shes 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 isnt the first time sled dogs have been hurt or killed by sled dog companies in Canada. He said the SPCA in Tumbler Ridge seized 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.
Dogsters, I hope you’re OK. If you stomached that much, and you want to know the super horrendous details of the whole story so you can be even more armed for any action you may take, you can read the full report of the evaluation of the alleged dog killer from WorkSafeBBC. I would not recommend it except for the hardiest souls. It makes the version above look tame.
Here are some ways you can let your voice be heard. Of course you can bark back and leave a comment below. You can visit the new Facebook page, “Arrest Joey Houssian for the Murder of Sled Dogs,” or another Facebook page, “Boycotting Outdoor Adventures, in BC, Whistler.” I see that the Outdoor Adventures website still has page on its dog sled tours. Not smart. If you feel like reaching them to discuss the matter, here’s some contact info:
I’ll keep you updated on events as much as we all can stomach.
Update 10:30 p.m. Feb. 1: Many readers provided excellent links to other petition sites and other information about the situation. For the moment please look in the Comments area for these sites and updates. When something big happens, I’ll post another story. I’m just going to let the dust settle for a bit.