“Following Orders” Never Was a Defense for Immoral Acts

A man who killed 100 sled dogs has received not a prison sentence but workers’ compensation from a British Columbia agency. The man successfully proved he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after he claimed he was ordered to kill the dogs. “It was the worst experience [he] could ever imagine, his lawyer told CKNW, Vancouver, which had obtained the government document and then contacted the Humane Society.

Howling Dog Tours Whistler, a division of Outdoor Adventures Whistler (OAW), had added hundreds of dogs prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics, anticipating a significant increase in tourists who wanted to experience sled dog racing. Its advertising claimed that for $169 tourists could experience “a once in a lifetime experience [with] your team of energetic and loveable Alaskan Racing Huskies.” However, the tourism interest, combined with a lack of seasonal snow, collapsed after the Olympics.

According to the British Columbia review decision, issued Jan. 25, the man, unidentified by name in the document but later revealed to be Robert Fawcett, general manager and founder of Howling Dog Tours Whistler, “was tasked to cull the employer’s herd by approximately 100 dogs.” OAW denies it issued any such orders. Fawcett claims he was under orders to significantly improve the financial performance, and that killing about one-third of the pack was the last resort. However, a statement posted on the OAW website says “there were no instructions given to Mr. Fawcett as to the manner of euthanizing dogs on this occasion, and Mr. Fawcett was known to have very humanely euthanized dogs on previous occasions.” Thus, it seems entirely plausible that OAW expected Fawcett to eliminate about one-third of the pack. OAW has suspended all dog sled operations.

According to the Review Board, Fawcett claimed he made extraordinary efforts to adopt out the dogs, but told the Board there was only limited success. He said he contacted a veterinarian to humanely euthanize the dogs, but the veterinarian refused to kill healthy animals.

In a summary of testimony, the Compensation Board noted that Fawcett previously “euthanized dogs due to old age, illness, injury and where there were unwanted puppies.” Killing dogs for population control is not acceptable, according to Mush With PRIDE, an industry-wide organization for dog sled owners. The Review Board noted Fawcett experienced stress in previous kills, many done by gunshot, but did not experience PTSD until after the killings in April 2010.

Peter Fricker of the Vancouver Humane Society, said that his experience “in every case where people use animals to make money and when there are financial difficulties the animals’ lives are put at risk.”

On April 21, 2010, Fawcett began the executions, using a shotgun, rifle, and knife to kill 55 dogs. Two days later, he killed 45. Most of the kills were not “clean.” The workers’ compensation board reported that dogs suffered as much as 20 minutes after first being shot before dying, and that some were shot and put alive into a mass grave. The dogs were forced to watch others being killed before they, too, would be killed. In panic and fear, they began to attack their executioner who wrapped his arms in foam to prevent his own injuries. By the end of each day of killing, Fawcett was covered by the blood of his victims.

The compensation board noted Fawcett’s family physician “indicated that [following the mass killings] the worker [complained] of poor appetite, inability to cope, poor memory and concentration, agitation, anger and hopelessness after the mass culling.” A psychologist, according to the board’s report, “noted that he [Fawcett] complained of panic attacks, nightmares, sleeps disturbance, anger, irritability and depressed mood.”

Almost all references to the killings—by official documents and on the OAW website—use the word “euthanized” to describe what happened to the dogs and not the more accurate, “murdered.”

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Vancouver Humane Society are now investigating the killings, and criminal charges may be filed.

Fawcett may believe he was ordered to get rid of the animals to improve cost effectiveness. He may also believe he had no other option but to kill them to meet financial demands of his employer. But, there is always an option, and nothing can excuse what he did or how he carried out the executions.

The “Superior Orders Doctrine,” informally known as the “I was only following orders” defense, is no defense at all. The first time it was recorded was probably in 1476 when Pietro diHagenbach, a knight in the Holy Roman Empire, claimed that atrocities and torture committed under his direction, but not personally conducted by him, was ordered by his superior, the Duke of Burgandy. For allowing such heinous crimes, DiHagenbach was beheaded.

The Nuremberg Defense by Nazis following World War II that they couldn’t be held accountable for the Holocaust and its atrocities because they were only following orders was dismissed by the court. The Nuremberg Principle IV is clear: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”

In U.S. v. Keenan (1969) a Marine private claimed he was not guilty of a war crime when he killed an unarmed elderly Vietnamese civilian because he was following the direct order of his superior. However, the Court of Military Appeals ruled “the justification for acts done pursuant to orders does not exist if the order was of such a nature that a man of ordinary sense and understanding would know it to be illegal.” The rejection of the “following orders defense” to commit illegal and immoral acts in a non-military setting, when the terror of war isn’t imminent, is even more appalling and inexcusable when a person’s life isn’t in jeopardy.

Robert Fawcett may actually be experiencing PTSD as a result of the torture and murder of 100 huskies. He may need long-term physical and mental care. But, by he also cruelly and brutally killed animals, for whatever reason he thought he had to do so. For that alone, there can, and should be, no defense.

Walter Brasch, during a 40-year work career in mass communications, has been a member of several unions, in both the private and public sectors. He is a syndicated newspaper columnist and the author of 16 books, including With Just Cause: Unionization of the American Journalist, Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, and his latest Fracking Pennsylvania. He can be contacted at: walterbrasch@gmail.com. Read other articles by Walter, or visit Walter's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on February 4th, 2011 at 9:15am #

    i do not like people owning animals. i don’t approve of people owning people.
    those who do, taught Fawcett to abuse animals.

    i also cannot accept that a proper governance cld have not dealt humanely with Fawcett and the dogs.
    our governance [system of rule] commands our boys to kill innocent people in korea, afgh’n, and elsewhere.
    what happened to Fawcett, it cld have happened to me in my younger days: we kill people; so, why shldn’t i kill some dogs that r burden on my life!
    and only thereafter find out that my nervous system wld punish me for it.

    animal cruelty or even torture-mutilation in canada is not a rarity. and canadian governance does not prevent it.
    even taking care of animals is privatized; which means cruelty wld continue. tnx

  2. mary said on February 4th, 2011 at 12:40pm #


    This is supposed to be humane slaughter. The video is unwatchable.


  3. kanomi said on February 4th, 2011 at 3:56pm #

    The nature of civilization is the reduction of the glory of life to a commodity to be wasted and abused.

    Unspeakable acts of demonic evil, like this, become the norm: factory farms, industrial whaling, a bunch of lunatics slaughtering beautiful huskies because civilization is irredeemably insane.

  4. kalidasa said on February 5th, 2011 at 2:26pm #

    Why was my remark removed?
    People DO eat dogs, do they not?
    People DO literally order dog from a menu in some restaurants, do they not?
    People DO eat many substances so vile and disgusting they would make a demon wretch, do they not?
    Why couldn’t they have fed the dead dogs to the live dogs?
    They feed dead cows to live cows, do they not?
    People then eat such against the laws of nature meat, do they not?

    Do everyday actions of semi-human beings disgust someone?
    Too effing bad.

  5. RockinFX said on February 5th, 2011 at 3:08pm #

    I have no idea what your removed comment was, kalidasa, but your mentioning feeding dead cows to live cows shows at least a significant ignorance of animal issues. Feeding live cows (vegetarian ruminants) the ground remains of other vegetarian ruminants (goats, sheep and other cattle) is what caused the emergence of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (“Mad Cow Disease”) which eventually threatened human consumers. The question here isn’t “is this done?”, but “SHOULD this be done?”.

    Despite the fact that dogs are omnivores, in both instances (cows and dogs) the answer is a resounding, “NO!”. As a vegetarian I abhor the eating of creatures, but I abhor even more the violence perpetrated that would only have been made more repulsive by your suggestion.

  6. toadflax said on February 5th, 2011 at 4:51pm #

    I cannot believe the arrogance of this essay. Do you know that this man asked the SPCA twice for help? Having dealt with my local BC SPCA, I do know how they do not help animals. The last time I was there, I left and complained to the city about all the shit on the puppies while the sweet sexy girls at the front showed off their sweatshirts. God, don’t want shit on those precious tits.
    To compare a person who has been ordered to kill and who is in a subordinate position who very likely would lose his job, to a Nazi who sat in an office is such arrogant academic bullshit, I can hardly stop from vomiting. How dare you. No wonder people don’t trust academics anymore. You sir are the Banality of EVIL.

  7. kalidasa said on February 6th, 2011 at 7:34am #

    That was the idea RockinFX.
    Wasn’t it obvious?
    Or was it TOO obvious?

    I do have one question though..

    You say ..”but your mentioning feeding dead cows to live cows shows at least a significant ignorance of animal issues.”

    Then you say.. “Feeding live cows (vegetarian ruminants) the ground remains of other vegetarian ruminants (goats, sheep and other cattle)”

    Did I miss something there? Or am I just imagining you said feeding live cows other cattle?

    And hey, I’m not the one ordering dog with mushroom sauce.
    But people do.

    I’m not the one feeding dead cows to live cows.
    But people do