The team of SPCA constables who investigated the mass killing of 56 Whistler-area sled dogs in 2011 was honoured with the Stu Rammage Award at the BC SPCA’s annual awards ceremony on June 1 in Vancouver. The award is named in honour of one of Canada’s most dedicated animal welfare advocates, and is presented each year by the BC SPCA for an extraordinary achievement by an individual or group in the protection and care of animals.
The Whistler investigation was the largest and most complex animal cruelty investigation ever undertaken by the BC SPCA and resulted in charges of animal cruelty being laid against the former general manager of Howling Dog Tours in April 2012.
Craig Daniell, chief executive officer of the BC SPCA, noted that because the mass killings took place in April 2010 – nearly a year before the incident became known to the SPCA or the public, the SPCA investigators had the almost impossible task of determining if there was forensic evidence in the mass grave linking the crimes to the person responsible for the killings. Without that physical evidence there would be no basis for a recommendation of charges to Crown counsel.
“The task that these investigators undertook was enormous – it was gruesome, physically and emotionally exhausting and it exposed the team to horrors that I am sure will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Yet they carried out their work with extraordinary professionalism and without complaint,” said Daniell.
The investigation required state-of-the-art forensic techniques never before used in an SPCA investigation. In the first phase of the on-site investigation a team of SPCA constables, archaeologists and forensic anthropologists cleared debris from on top of the grave, carefully screening the debris for evidence. They then created a precise measurement of the gravesite using lasers, probes, GPS and trench testing to determine dimensions. Next, an excavator was brought in to remove soil – in two-inch layers at a time – while investigators screened for evidence. Once a grid had been set out, teams painstakingly dug through each section of the extensive gravesite by hand, and all evidence was photographed, identified and any bodies or body parts were taken to an onsite triage station where they were examined and x-rayed by forensic veterinarians. The final stage involved processing the evidence off site at various labs.
“We are extremely proud of our cruelty investigations team and are delighted to honour them for their exceptional work on this investigation,” said Daniell.
The BC SPCA Awards Program honours both people and animals who have made outstanding contributions to animal welfare during the past year. Recipients include veterinarians, staff, volunteers and animal heroes. The non-profit BC SPCA cares for nearly 32,000 abused, abandoned, injured and neglected animals each year in British Columbia.
The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a not-for-profit organization reliant on public donations. Our mission is to protect and enhance the quality of life for domestic, farm and wild animals in B.C.