For visitors to Whistler during the 2010 Winter Olympics, the blue-eyed huskies that took tourists on sleds into the wilderness were icons of Canada.
For those who work with those dogs, the animals are much more than a livelihood, they are close companions.
When news broke Monday of the mass slaughter of at least 70 dogs last April, dog sledders across Canada reacted with sheer horror – and disgust.
"Any dog sledder who culls dogs at the end of a season should be culled himself, as far as we're concerned," said Paul McCormick, head dog sledding guide for Wilderness Adventures, a Toronto-based company that runs dog-sledding trips through Canada's Algonquin Park.
"You don't go out and cull dogs," he said. "We're part of the largest dog sled operation in the world with 40 dogs and we never cull dogs. We retire them, they're adopted ... there are a lot of alternatives."
An employee of Outdoor Adventures Whistler says he killed at least 70 dogs over two days. The huskies, weighing about 40 to 50 pounds, were used for dog sled tours during the 2010 Winter Olympics, but were uneconomic to keep after the Games were over and the tourists went home.
In response to concerns over the killings, Tourism Whistler on Monday suspended reservations for dog sledding at Outdoor Adventures Whistler, which is owned by Joey Houssian, son of the founder of Intrawest Corp., Joe Houssian. Full refunds will be provided for those who booked a dog sledding tour with the company and want their money back.
Spokesman Graham Aldcroft told reporters the company had expected a proper, legal and humane manner would be used to euthanize the dogs. Company officials heard last Friday that as many as 100 dogs were put down on April 21 and April 23 in a brutal manner.
The Outdoor Adventures kennel is between the communities of Whistler and Pemberton, surrounded by snow-covered trees and at the end of a rarely travelled road. The kennel was at one point home to the dozens of dogs who were culled. Kennel staff wouldn't comment on the situation Monday, although they were visibly shaken.
About 150 dogs still call the kennel home. When they're not on the dog sled tour, the racing huskies bide their time play-fighting, barking at unfamiliar faces and chewing their doghouses. Some of the dogs at the kennel have long since retired. The kennel has been unable to find homes for them because of their age, so they remain at the facility, frolicking with the other animals.
A report filed by WorkSafeBC on a claim for compensation for post-traumatic distress disorder sets out the details of the killings in graphic detail.
WorkSafeBC said an employee with Outdoor Adventures Whistler received compensation after he was required to shoot the dogs, but it declined to identify the manager who was responsible for the killing.
The report says the employee, who lived at the same location as the dogs, handled hundreds of dogs. Occasionally he euthanized animals, using a gun, with the support of a veterinarian.
In April, 2010, his job was to cull the herd of about 300 by about 100 dogs. A veterinarian was contacted but refused to euthanize healthy animals. Attempts were made to adopt out the dogs, but with only limited success.
The report states the employee had killed more than a dozen dogs when he came to Suzie, the mother of his family's pet dog, Bumble. The blast from his gun wounded her horribly, and her screams of pain made him drop the leash. Eventually he had to use a gun with a scope to finish her off at a distance. Other dogs attacked him when he went to retrieve the body.
The employee told WorkSafeBC he performed what he described as "execution-style" killings, where he wrestled the dogs to the ground and stood on them with one foot to shoot them.
Incidents on April 23 were worse, the report says. About 20 minutes after he shot a dog named Nora, he noticed that she was crawling around a mass grave he had dug for the animals.
After hearing about the mass slaughter, the BC SPCA, who have authority in B.C. to make recommendations on prosecution to Crown counsel, launched an investigation. The SPCA began its investigation into the killings Monday. SPCA spokeswoman Marcie Moriarty said she believes the killings are Criminal Code offences.
The employee's lawyer, Corey Steinberg, declined Monday to comment on the case or reveal the identity of his client. The company stated in a news release that the employee was the general manager and he had ceased managing the business not long after the events in late April.
Significant changes were made after the events of last April to ensure humane treatment of the dogs and improve safety protocols, the company also stated. Any dogs requiring euthanasia are taken to a veterinarian's office and no firearms are on the site, the release says.
With a report from Niamh Scallan