12/27/2013 07:06 EST | Updated 02/26/2014 05:59 EST

Former B.C. Sled Dog Survives Slaughter, Finds New Home

An Abbotsford, B.C., woman has adopted a former sled dog that once belonged to Robert Fawcett, the man convicted of animal cruelty for the slaughter of nine sled dogs after the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

In 2011, the B.C. SPCA dug up the bodies of 43 dogs from a mass grave near Whistler. Last year, Fawcett was sentenced to three years' probation for slaughtering nine sled dogs and burying them in a pit on his property.

He claimed he killed only the old and sick dogs and that he had no other option when the sled dog industry collapsed.

Rebecca Gebeshuber says Coco, a former lead sled dog she adopted in September, may have survived the slaughter because she was young.

“There were a lot of dogs there,” Gebeshuber told CBC News. “There were 300 dogs at the time, so it's hard to know whether she was in the part of the area where she would have witnessed part of that.”

Gebeshuber says Coco, an Alaskan Racing Husky with a gentle demeanour, gets lots of attention.

"She's cute, everyone loves her. She's like a teddy bear. People want to cuddle her and love her."

In October, Gebeshuber also adopted Cooper, another sled dog that was given up by his owner because she couldn't care for him anymore.

"It does make me feel like I helped to sort of right something in the world a little bit," Gebeshuber said.

Tough time adjusting

Nearly 80 dogs formerly owned by Fawcett and Outdoor Adventures Whistler, the company which bought his business, now have new homes, but some have problems adjusting to their new lives.

Some eight former sled dogs are still waiting for homes at Whistler Animals Galore and BC SPCA shelters. 

The dogs are very loyal and smart, but they were also raised in very insular environments and don't have much street sense or life skills, Gebeshuber said.

“Some of them are afraid of the dark. Some of them are afraid of certain types of people. I remember reading one of the dogs freaked out because he saw a guy wearing sunglasses and a huge hat," she said.

"Coco still whacks her head into things all the time because she's too fast. She just moves at a high rate of speed all the time."

Meanwhile, Cooper has major anxiety issues. When meeting new people, he begins to tremble with his tail between his legs.

Although the dogs can be difficult, Gebeshuber says they just need love.

"It's tough, like trying to work through a kid who's got behaviour problems," she said.

"[You] don't really know what's going on in their heads and you try to help them and you can't get through, and then all of the sudden there is a breakthrough."

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