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B.C. sled dog slaughter sentence appalls SPCA

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The head of animal cruelty investigations for the B.C. SPCA says she is flabbergasted at the sentence given to a man convicted of animal cruelty for the slaughter nine sled dogs after the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

On Thursday in North Vancouver provincial court, Robert Fawcett was sentenced to three years of probation, 200 hours of community service, a $1,500 fine, a 10-year firearms ban and a three-year ban on any commercial involvement with animals.

The B.C. SPCA's chief prevention and enforcement officer Marcie Moriarty said she was appalled by the sentence, which did not include any jail time.

"The fact that he did not even receive a lifetime ban on owning or caring for animals just is staggering," she said.

The case was the most complicated animal cruelty investigation ever conducted by the B.C. SPCA, which dug up the bodies of 43 dogs from a mass grave near Whistler after details of the killings came to light in January 2011. Earlier reports had indicated 56 dog were dug up at the site.

Fawcett admitted to slaughtering the sled dogs and burying them in a pit on his property, claiming he had no other option when the sled dog industry collapsed following the Olympics.

Earlier this year, Fawcett pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary pain and suffering to nine of the sled dogs. He faced a maximum penalty of five years in prison and $75,000 in fines.

Blamed for sins of the industry

In court on Thursday, Judge Steven Merrick concluded the prolonged killing of the sled dogs in 2010 was a horrific criminal offence, but he said Fawcett was in a "dissociative" state at the time.

Merrick agreed with the Crown prosecutor's recommendations and imposed no jail time, noting Fawcett continues to live in fear for his life.

The judge said Fawcett was blamed for the sins of an entire industry while being widely accused of killing 100 sled dogs inhumanely, a claim made in a WorksafeBC report into the incident.

Crown spokesman Neil Mackenzie said outside the court that despite the fact that 43 dogs were found in the mass grave, it was important to note that Fawcett was only convicted for the inhumane deaths of some of the animals.

"The necropsies established nine of them had suffered unnecessarily," he said.

Mackenzie also noted the judge said the international demonization of Fawcett was an overwhelming mitigating factor in the decision not to send him to jail.

"Clearly it has had some effect on the public perception of the case and as I said from the outset, it's important to understand that Mr. Fawcett is on trial not because the killing of the dogs was unlawful but the killing of the dogs was done in a manner that was unlawful."

Animal protection strengthened

Despite her disappointment with the sentence, Moriarty believes the fallout from the slaughter has helped strengthen protection for animals in B.C.

"This case and the investigation for the B.C. SPCA were about affecting change and there has been legislative change. There has been incredible new regulation of an industry, which I know has affected sled dogs and welfare in the future."

Moriarty said she would like Fawcett to pay back the compensation he received for his WorkSafeBC claim.

The dogs at the Whistler-based company were killed shortly after the Olympics ended, but the slaughter wasn't detected until nearly a year later when documents surfaced showing Fawcett had filed a WorkSafeBC claim for post-traumatic stress.

The cull of the sled dogs came after Howling Dog Tours fell on hard times after the Olympics.

After information leaked out about the cull, Fawcett and the company that bought his business, Outdoor Adventures, issued a statement in February 2011 claiming that many of the dogs were old and sick, and efforts to have them adopted were unsuccessful.

The company said no instructions were provided to Fawcett on how to kill the animals, but that he was known to have put down dogs humanely on previous occasions.