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Touching service held in Penticton for Whistler sled dogs

An emotional outpouring came from a group gathered to lay the 56 Whistler sled dogs to rest at the Penticton BC SPCA pet cemetery.

The whimper and cries of one dog that came with it's owner to pay their respects seemingly fit in, as many of the 100 or so people in attendance wiped tears away from their faces.

"We could not save you, but we could be your voice demanding justice for these unspeakable crimes. In every step of this investigation we held you in our hearts," said Marcie Moriarty, crime prevention and enforcement officer, BC SPCA. "We wept as we carried your broken bones from your mass grave and as we witnessed first hand the evidence of your devastating final moments on earth we became even more deeply committed to seeking justice for you and every animal whose lives are shattered by human violence."

The mass killing at a Whistler-based sled dog tour company in 2011 launched the largest animal cruelty investigation in BC SPCA history. In order to gather evidence to pursue charges, the remains of the animals had to be exhumed. More than one thousand pages of evidence was gathered against the former general manager of Howling Dog Tours, Bob Fawcett. He pled guilty to the charges in August and is expected to be sentenced later this month.

"We always promised that the remains of the animals would be treated with the utmost respect and care and once the evidence had been gathered and justice had been served through the courts that we would return and ensure that these dogs could be properly laid to rest. Today we gather to fulfill that promise and to honour the 56 Whistler dogs whose violent deaths shocked the world and touched so many hearts," said Craig Daniell, chief executive officer, BC SPCA.

The news of the animal cruelty case touched people worldwide. The pet cemetery located off White Lake Road near Penticton was chosen because of that and for the beauty of the area. Wearing t-shirts with a sled dog pictured and white writing that read Justice for the Whistler Sled Dogs, Nicole and Phil Jenson travelled from Chilliwack to attend the ceremony. Nicole read a poem she wrote to lay at the memorial head stone stating that this is "where the lost souls of dogs, reunite with beloved friends." She ended her poem with "forever they will howl in our hearts." The couple are volunteers at the SPCA and said they have attended many vigils for the sled dogs.

"It has opened our eyes to the lack of penalty there is for the abuse that happens to animals. We hope this case in particular will set things in motion to change things," said Phil, who brought their rescue dog Marley to the ceremony. "This is something that never really leaves our minds."

Arlene Dunstan-Adams, from Penticton, said the story of the Whistler Sled Dogs hit especially close to her heart. She said she is part of the Heart Rescue program for Huskies that focuses on saving dogs in northern remote communities and reservations in Canada to find them good homes. Dunstan-Adams remembers when she first heard about the sled dogs and how hard it hit her.

"I was fostering two huskies at that time and they were actually close to Whistler. I looked at them and thought that could have been them," she said.

Many of those who work with the SPCA became quite emotional during the ceremony. Kathy Woodward, senior animal protection officer in the Okanagan had to pause and take a moment before she spoke to the Western News.

"This memorial is for the sled dogs but it represents all the animals in the province and world that have been abused. I think it will bring me some closure, at the moment it is very emotional because we are here with people who were with the case from the beginning and it is very difficult for them. But, it will offer closure," said Woodward. "This touched a lot of people and it is a shame that it took something of this scale to make people realize animal cruelty happens every single day."

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