VANCOUVER, B.C. – A team of forensic scientists, anthropologists and veterinarians will begin exhuming the mass grave of 100 Whistler-area sled dogs this week in the second phase of an animal cruelty investigation into the case, the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has announced.
The mass grave sits beneath piles of mesh wiring and empty dog houses that they will also process for evidence, "to hopefully see charges laid in this particular case," said SPCA cruelty investigations general manager Marcie Moriarty, "willfully causing or permitting to be caused unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal."
Investigators secured the site in January, but the ground has only now thawed enough so they can begin digging.
"Specifically the investigation team is going to be looking for any evidence, including any carcasses, tissue samples, bone fragments, any type of shell casing, knives, or other physical evidence that will be required to prove the elements of criminal code offense," Moriarty said.
The mass killing came to light after an employee for Outdoor Adventures at Whistler filed for worker's compensation benefits due to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Moriarty said an the employee was told to cull the dogs in April of 2010.
Some dogs were shot, while others' throats were slit before their bodies were pitched into a mass grave, she said.
"It can only be described as a massacre," she said.
“This is one of the largest and most complex investigations the BC SPCA has ever undertaken,” said Moriarty. “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.”
In a statement on the company's web site, Outdoor Adventures said it has voluntarily suspended dog sled tours.
"I want to emphasize that the decision to euthanize dogs was not the result of a slow-down in business after the Olympics," wrote owner Joey Houssian in a letter dated Feb. 7. "In fact, our business had been steadily improving since the Olympics and we had been investing significantly in the operation, the kennel and the quality of life for our dogs. A visit to our kennel or a discussion with any of our staff will confirm this, as does a recent veterinarian report and an inspection by the SPCA conducted earlier this week.
"None of this changes the fact that dogs were put down. However, we had every reason to believe this would be done in a professional and humane manner."
Assisting the BC SPCA in the investigation is a team of internationally recognized forensic experts from across North America, whose combined expertise includes experience in the forensic investigations of the Robert Pickton case and the identification of the Green River serial murder victims.
The excavation is to begin on May 5 and is expected to take several days.