11/02/2012 11:31 EDT | Updated 10/28/2013 08:29 EDT

Whistler Sled Dogs Funeral Ceremony To Bring Closure (VIDEO)

PENTICTON, B.C. - Mourners wiped away tears and placed flowers and other mementoes beside a memorial honouring 56 slaughtered sled dogs, during a ceremony at a pet cemetery on the outskirts of this community in British Columbia's Okanagan.

The animals, owned by Whistler-based Howling Dog Tours and used during the 2010 Winter Olympics as a tourist draw, were slaughtered in April of the same year, but their bodies were exhumed more than a year later after an SPCA investigation.

That investigation ended with one Criminal Code charge laid in April 2011 against former Howling Dog manager, Bob Fawcett.

Craig Daniell, chief executive officer of the BC-SPCA, said the society always wanted to give the dogs a proper burial site after the forensic experts were done examining the remains.

He said Penticton was chosen as the final resting place because it's one of three pet cemeteries owned by the BC-SPCA.

"Even though this tragedy occurred in the Whistler area, these dogs belong to the province," said Daniell.

"The dogs came from all over B.C., and it was important for us to have them laid to rest in a forestry-type setting such as here and in a place where other people's dogs and cats, who also touched the lives of their owners, are buried."

Mourners attending the Friday afternoon ceremony brought their own dogs. Some even wore T-shirts that read, "Justice for the Whistler sled dogs."

Fifty-six separate stones were placed individually on a memorial stone which read, "In loving memory of the Whistler sled dogs."

"You (dogs) will never be forgotten, and we pledge that in your memories that we will fight any form of animal cruelty and abuse," said Marylee Davies, president of the BC-SPCA, during the 25-minute service.

The service concluded with a dedication read by the crowd and a moment of silence.

Since the slaughter, the province revised its anti-cruelty laws to provide tough new protection for sled dogs, including fines of up to $75,000 and two years behind bars for violators.

Fawcett is expected to be sentenced later this month after pleading guilty in August to causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal — a conviction that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and $75,000 in fines.

But Daniell said that jail sentences are extremely rare in animal-cruelty cases.

(Penticton Herald/CKOR)