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Fawcett spared jail time in sentencing related to sled-dog killings

Demonstrators hold signs outside Provincial Court while attending a sentencing hearing for Robert Fawcett in North Vancouver, B.C., on Nov. 22, 2012.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Shortly after the news broke that Robert Fawcett had killed dozens of sled dogs near the resort community of Whistler, there was a knock on the door of the family home. The family was given a distressing message: They had 20 minutes to leave because they were in danger.

Mr. Fawcett, his wife and their two children went into hiding at a local hotel, but the death threats still found them. Mr. Fawcett suffered a nervous breakdown, was sent to a mental-health facility in Ontario under an assumed name and was urged not to tell anyone why he was there. His family would have to be moved to a second hotel after security was breached.

The sled-dog slaughter in April, 2010, was an act that enraged the public. On Thursday, Mr. Fawcett's version of events was disclosed for the first time at his sentencing hearing in North Vancouver Provincial Court. His lawyer, Greg Diamond, took on the difficult task of trying to humanize the former employee of Howling Dog Tours, a man even the lawyer conceded had become an "international pariah."

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The Crown did not seek a jail sentence and the judge did not issue one. Mr. Fawcett was ordered to pay $1,725 in fines. He was given three years of probation and 200 hours of community service, and ordered to continue counselling. He was also handed a 10-year firearms prohibition.

"The level of fine in no way is based on the level of pain and suffering," Judge Steven Merrick said. "Because if I were to do that, the amount of fine that I would impose would be astronomical and would never be paid in your lifetime or your grandchildren's lifetime."

The news of the killings first broke in January, 2011, following Mr. Fawcett's WorkSafeBC claim for post-traumatic stress disorder. In April of this year, Mr. Fawcett was charged in connection with the killings. He pleaded guilty in August to a single count of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal.

Though 54 dogs would be found in the mass grave, the charge against Mr. Fawcett related only to the deaths of nine dogs that didn't immediately die. As the Crown noted, euthanizing dogs isn't itself illegal. It was the suffering of the nine dogs that led to the charge.

The hearing opened with prosecutor Nicole Gregoire reading an agreed statement of facts. In the statement, Mr. Fawcett described in grisly detail how he killed the dogs – some were shot, some stabbed. There were gasps and tears as the killings were relived.

In one instance, he described the killing of Suzie, the mother of his family's pet dog, Bumble. The blast from his gun wounded the dog horribly, but it survived. Eventually he had to use a gun with a scope to finish it off at a distance. Another dog attacked him when he went to retrieve the body.

Mr. Fawcett also performed what he described as "execution-style" killings, where he wrestled some of the dogs to the ground and stood on them with one foot to shoot them. He said one of the dogs survived the first bullet and being tossed in a mass grave. He said he then had to climb into the grave to finish the killing.

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Mr. Fawcett did not speak on his own behalf, letting his lawyer recount the events.

Howling Dog Tours was owned by Outdoor Adventures Whistler at the time of the killings. Mr. Fawcett, his lawyer said, felt pressured to carry out the killings after a decline in business. Mr. Diamond said his client had felt that adoption and relocation efforts failed, and Outdoor Adventures owner Joey Houssian told him the dog sledding operation could fold.

In his statement, Mr. Fawcett said he felt if he didn't kill the dogs that were old and sick, the others would suffer. He said it was a mistake to kill the dogs in front of the others, since the animals grew distressed and the situation spiralled out of control.

Mr. Diamond said Mr. Fawcett still has nightmares about the incident and is suicidal. He said he was once caught by his wife bashing his head into a tree.

Mr. Fawcett's statement said he would "never stop feeling guilty" and that part of him died with those dogs.

The BC SPCA, which exhumed the bodies of the dogs, said the punishment Mr. Fawcett received was "light."

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"To say we are shocked by this sentence for these gruesome killings is an understatement," spokeswoman Marcie Moriarty wrote in a statement.

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