A team of international forensic experts has been hired to dig up the mass grave of 100 sled dogs slaughtered in Whistler last year, in the most complex investigations ever undertaken by the B.C. SPCA.

On Sunday, the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA) surveyed the site where the bodies of the sled dogs are believed to be buried. The exhumation is scheduled to begin on Thursday and is expected to take at least a week.

Marcie Moriarty, the B.C.SPCA'S head of cruelty investigations says the organization is looking for evidence to support criminal charges of willfully causing suffering to animals.

"This is one of the largest and most complex investigations the B.C. SPCA has ever undertaken," she said.


B.C. SPCA investigators survey the site where 100 sled dogs are buried in Whistler, B.C. (B.C. SPCA)

"Because of the length of time that has passed since the incident occurred, it is necessary to employ painstaking, state-of-the-art forensic techniques to gather the evidence needed to pursue animal cruelty charges in the case."

Under provincial law, the B.C. SPCA can recommend charges of animal cruelty to Crown prosecutors.

Now that the ground has thawed, the SPCA has spared no expense in the investigation, hiring a team of internationally recognized forensic experts with experience in the Robert Pickton pig farm murders as well as with mass graves in Rwanda, Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Bodies will be examined for potential knife wounds, bleeding out, bone damage.... We'll be able to tell whether there's multiple bullet wounds," said Moriarty.

The investigation will take at least two weeks and could cost up to $225,000. Moriarty said she hopes it will lead to higher standards for animal welfare in all animal related industries throughout Canada.

"It's essential to send a message that when companies are using animals for profit that they simply can't just discard them when they've ended their supposedly useful lives"

Company owner admitted to slaughter

The sled dogs were killed by Robert Fawcett, who described in graphic detail in a WorkSafeBC document how he had to slaughter the animals in front of each other because of the size of the cull.

Fawcett was the part owner of Howling Dog Tours, along with Whistler-based Outdoor Adventures, which used the sled dogs on its tours. Outdoor Adventures maintains it never sanctioned the killing of that many dogs, and did not take over the operation of Howling Dog Tours from Fawcett until a month after the slaughter.

Public outrage over the slaughter led to the creation of a provincial task force, which recommended tougher animal cruelty penalties, including fines of up to $75,000 and jail sentences of up to two years.