Police and the B.C. SPCA are investigating "horrific" reports that the general manager for a Whistler tour company slaughtered at least 100 healthy sled dogs last year, dumping their bodies into a mass grave.

The employee at a dog-sledding company now owned by Outdoor Adventures Whistler filed a WorkSafe BC claim for post-traumatic stress in May 2010 after shooting dozens of dogs to death.

"It's horrific," Marcie Moriarty, general manager for SPCA cruelty investigations, told ctvbc.ca.

"I've seen some pretty terrible things, but reading this [claim], I had to put it down at times."

The slaughter was conducted on April 21 and 23. In his claim, the worker wrote that he had killed 70 dogs, but the company corrected that number to 100.

The dogs were killed because of a "slow winter season" after the Winter Olympics, according to WorkSafe BC documents.

Whistler RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve LeClair said police are investigating the allegations, and criminal charges are possible, including cruelty to animals and injuring or endangering animals.

Outdoor Adventures Whistler says the cull was conducted by the manager of its subsidiary company Howling Dog Tours.

"It was our expectation that it was done in a proper, legal and humane manner. We only learned otherwise on Friday, January 28 when we read the WCB ruling for the first time," Outdoor Adventures Whistler said in a release.

The company says that it is also investigating the mass killing, and the employee no longer manages the dog business. 

"This employee continues to get our support as he heals from his injuries and illness," the company said.

Outdoor Adventures Whistler has had a financial stake in Howling Dog for four years and took over complete control of the company in May 2010.

Gruesome details contained in claim

In WorkSafe BC documents, the worker describes chasing after a dog that survived a shot to the face: "Although she had the left side of her cheek blown off and her eye hanging out, he was unable to catch her."

Another apparently dead dog was dumped into the grave. "‘Nora,' who he had shot approximately 20 minutes before, was crawling around in the mass grave he had dug for the animals. He had to climb down into the grave amidst the 10 or so bodies already there and put her out of her misery."

According to the claim, the dogs panicked as they watched their compatriots being killed, and attacked the worker as he finished his job.

At one point during the slaughter, he ran out of ammunition and had to kill an aggressive dog with a knife.

"By that point he wanted nothing more than to stop the ‘nightmare' but he continued because he had been given a job to finish," according to the documents.

"He stated that he felt ‘numb.'"

The worker told WorkSafe BC he had worked for the company for years, lived on a farm with the dogs, "and had developed a strong emotional bond of mutual love and trust with them."

He said that he consulted a veterinarian after being told to get rid of 100 animals, but they refused to euthanize healthy dogs. He had previously killed, at most, four or five dogs at once.

Vet-supervised lethal injections would have been the humane way to cull the dogs, Moriarty said. "It is technically legal to shoot an animal, as long as it dies instantly. That most certainly did not happen in this instance."

Moriarty said the SPCA will have to dig up the mass grave to complete its investigation, which will include the possibility of criminal charges.

Ban on sled-dog tours?

The Vancouver Humane Society is now calling for a ban on sled-dog tours.

"The details of how these dogs were killed are absolutely shocking," VHS spokesman Peter Fricker said in a release.

"This is what happens when animals are exploited for profit and become surplus to requirements when business is bad."

Moriarty said the SPCA isn't impressed with most sled-dog businesses, either.

"I've had a huge problem with the sled-dogging industry for years," she said, adding that some dogs are tied up all day on short tethers, with little chance for exercise, rather than being taken out on tours.

"In B.C. we come across far more dogs in horrible conditions in the name of quote-unquote dog-sledding operations."

But she stopped short of calling for an all-out ban on dog-sledding tours.

"It's hard given stories like today for me to say this, but there are good sled-dogging operations out there. I have seen them," Moriarty said.

She added that the best businesses tend to have between 20 and 30 animals raised by a single family.

Changes at Outdoor Adventures

Outdoor Adventures Whistler says that since it took control of Howling Dogs, it has made "significant" changes to the business to ensure the humane treatment of its animals.

Those changes include giving away 75 dogs, neutering males and creating an open-pen kennel rather than tethering the dogs. Guns are no longer allowed on site and the company's new policy is that euthanasia must be performed at a veterinary office.