NORTH VANCOUVER, B.C. — A man who pleaded guilty in the slaughter of dozens of sled dogs in British Columbia will not spend time in prison, a judge has ruled.
Provincial Court Judge Steve Merrick concluded Thursday that Robert Fawcett had the “best interests” of the dogs at heart when he culled the pack near Whistler after a slump in business following the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
While Merrick said he agreed with a psychiatrist’s assessment that Fawcett’s actions were the result of mental instability, the judge noted: “(You) ought to have anticipated the possibility of the horrific circumstances that could result.”
“It is beyond comprehension as to how this could have occurred,” the judge said.
The devastating aftermath of the April 2010 killing was outlined in court by Fawcett’s lawyer, who described how hard it was for his 40-year-old client to even listen to details of killing his beloved animals again.
“`I will never stop feeling guilty for the suffering that the dogs endured that day,”’ said defense lawyer Greg Diamond, quoting his client. “`I feel like part of me died with those dogs.”’
Fawcett earlier pleaded guilty to one count of causing unnecessary pain and suffering to animals. That count relates to the deaths of nine dogs. More than 50 dogs were exhumed from a mass grave in May 2011 as part of a forensic investigation by the British Columbia SPCA. The court was told that most of the dogs that were shot did not suffer.
The judge sentenced Fawcett to three years of probation, 200 hours of community service and a $1,500 fine. He may not participate in the sled dog industry or make decisions about euthanizing animals.
Fawcett admitted to killing the dogs in a gruesome tableau over two days following a post-Olympic slump in sales. The court was told that he felt forced into the decision when the owners of Howling Dog Tours put an “absolute freeze” on spending, except for food and the bare minimum of labor.
At that point, Fawcett was working 150 hours over two weeks to care for the animals and watching their conditions deteriorate to the point where they were fighting and killing each other in their kennel.
“In part, he accepted the burden because he felt he could do it compassionately and he did not want that burden placed on anyone else,” Diamond said.
Fawcett huddled with his arms crossed during the proceedings.
Animal euthanasia is legal in Canada.
The defense supplied 30 character references to the judge that described Fawcett’s “admirable dedication” to the dogs.
Diamond said his client has become an “international pariah,” partly due to intense media scrutiny.
He said his client has attempted suicide, has tattooed a ring of dogs around his arm to remember their lives and still shudders when he hears a dog bark.
He said the one “silver lining” that has resulted is legislative reform that gives British Columbia some of the toughest animal cruelty laws in the country.
Government prosecutor Nicole Gregoire said Fawcett has received death threats, had a mental breakdown that sent him to an institution for two months and even had his young children and wife forced into hiding.
The case became public in January 2011 after a worker’s compensation claim for post-traumatic stress disorder was leaked.
Gregoire said questions remain about the apparent contradiction of how someone who was caring and had a track record of high standards could inflict pain on animals.
She pointed to a psychological assessment to provide some insight, noting the psychiatrist found Fawcett likely had been experiencing “high levels of distress” leading up to the cull, and likely had disassociated his emotions during the event itself.
Fawcett has no criminal record, and a psychiatric assessment said the man is not a threat to people or animals.