Sled dog slaughter leads to tougher B.C. laws

B.C. will bring in tough new animal cruelty laws, including $75,000 fines and two-year jail terms, following the alleged slaughter of 100 dogs by a Whistler company last spring, Premier Christy Clark says.
The B.C. government says it is introducing stricter animal cruelty laws in response to a report looking into the slaughter of a hundred sled dogs last year in Whistler 2:17

B.C. will bring in tough new animal cruelty laws — including $75,000 fines and two-year jail terms — following the alleged slaughter of 100 dogs by a Whistler company last spring, Premier Christy Clark announced Tuesday morning.

Clark made the announcement based on the recommendations of a special task force set up to investigate the recreational industry after news broke that the dogs were slaughtered by an employee at a Whistler tour company after the Olympics.

B.C.'s existing laws limit fines for animal cruelty to $10,000 and six months in jail.

Recommendations adopted

Premier Christy Clark said British Columbia is adopting all of the Sled Dog Task Force's recommendations. Among other things, the task force urged the province to:

  • Create a new regulatory authority that would define new mandatory standards of animal care.
  • Recommend the federal government strengthen criminal laws governing animal cruelty.
  • Require veterinarians to report animal abuse to the B.C. SPCA.
  • Establish standards of care for the feeding, housing and euthanization of sled dogs.
  • Enhance the capacity of the B.C. SPCA to conduct animal cruelty investigations with a $100,000 donation.
  • Appoint a Crown counsellor with expertise in animal cruelty to pursue more cases.
  • Require sled dog companies on Crown land to submit to annual inspections.
  • Encourage the establishment of a sled dog industry association to develop certification and auditing programs.
  • Improve public awareness and ways to report suspected cases of animal cruelty.

"British Columbians have said clearly that cruel or inhumane treatment of sled dogs or any other animal is simply not acceptable," Clark said Tuesday morning at the Vancouver headquarters of the B.C. SPCA.

"That's why we are acting on all of the recommendations of the Sled Dog Task Force and sending a strong message that those who engage in that type of behaviour will be punished under tough new laws."

The task force was led by Liberal MLA Terry Lake, who is a veterinarian, and included representation from the BC SPCA and the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

"I can confidently say the recommendations include what I believe, as a veterinarian and animal lover, will help animals be well cared for," Lake said.

"Through our work the task force identified the need for the development of best practice guidelines for sled dog operations and improved animal cruelty laws overall."

Separate criminal investigation underway

Lori Chortyk of the SPCA said the report's findings focus on the industry. The animal protection group is handling a separate criminal investigation into the slaughter allegations.

The killing of the dogs came to light after an employee at the company filed a successful compensation claim for post-traumatic stress from the incident.

The company has denied reports  the animals were shot because bookings dried up after the 2010 Olympic Games, leaving it with more dogs than it could afford to keep. The owner issued a statement saying he was told by the employee that the dogs were old and sick and needed to be put down.

Chortyk says the focus of the criminal investigation is now on recovering the dead animals from a mass grave outside Whistler.

"It's like a murder investigation, and we've got 100 bodies here," she said. "We need to exhume them and examine them for any forensic links, to find out exactly what happened, who might have handled these dogs."

Chortyk says the SPCA has a team of international experts standing by, waiting to analyze the dogs' bodies, and she hopes the ground will be soft enough to start digging in the next few weeks.

"We've just been waiting for the ground to thaw in the Whistler area so that we can do that because we need the forensic evidence. … It's really up to Mother Nature at this point when the ground will be soft enough to dig."

When the criminal investigation is completed, it will be up to Crown counsel to decide if charges will be laid, Chortyk says.