If recent allegations of continued abuse at the Krabloonik dog sledding operation in Snowmass Village are true, they might violate local and state laws against animal cruelty. Yet authorities say they won’t investigate unless they get a formal report from someone with knowledge of the alleged abuse.
Neither local police nor state regulators have any immediate plans to investigate Krabloonik, even after a former musher said during a recent court hearing that dog abuse had occurred there as recently as last summer.
“If someone came in and made a report and had credible eyewitness information, and we were able to build a case from there, then we would investigate,” said Snowmass Village Police Chief Art Smythe, who has investigated the 250-dog mushing operation in the past.
Krabloonik has come under fire for alleged animal abuse for decades, and has been investigated over the last five years by the Snowmass Village Police Department and the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s office. Neither investigation led to criminal charges.
The most recent reports of abuse came from former musher Curtis Hungate, who has worked at Krabloonik on and off for five of the last 10 years. During a court hearing on Sept. 19, Hungate accused owner Dan MacEachen of shooting dogs to euthanize them as recently as last summer, leaving dogs to die when they had medical conditions that would have been expensive to treat, beating dogs excessively to break up dogfights, and preventing mushers from bringing allegedly hypothermic dogs in from the cold.
Hungate fathered a child with MacEachen’s daughter, and his allegations came during a custody battle with her where he argued that his child shouldn’t be permitted to be around MacEachen in the presence of animals, because of MacEachen’s alleged history of abuse.
MacEachen could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, but in court he denied all of the abuse allegations and claimed that he didn’t recall many of the instances that Hungate referenced.
MacEachen even denied that he had ever been accused of animal neglect or abuse, despite the fact that he pleaded no contest in 1988 to a charge of animal cruelty, according to court records.
Whatever MacEachen’s history, state and local laws do appear to prohibit some of the alleged abuse that Hungate detailed during the court hearing.
The Snowmass Village town code has strict laws against animal cruelty, and says that anyone is guilty of the offense who, “deprives of necessary sustenance, unnecessarily or cruelly beats, needlessly mutilates, needlessly kills … or, having the charge or custody of any animal, fails to provide it with proper food, drink or protection from the weather…”
Convicting someone of animal cruelty, Smythe said, sometimes requires proving that they beat an animal “unnecessarily or cruelly,” a standard that can be difficult to prove. The Krabloonik case is muddied by the fact that the Krabloonik dogs are work animals, and are likely better adapted to rough conditions like sleeping outside in the winter than a typical domesticated dog might be.
Still, Smythe said, “If it’s intentional poor care and neglect issues, that could qualify as animal cruelty.”
State standards for the Krabloonik dogs are governed by the Colorado Pet Animal Care Facilities Act (PACFA), which has strict rules requiring that sick dogs be given prompt veterinary care.
“Sick or injured animals (except fish and invertebrates) must be provided with timely veterinary care and prescribed treatment followed,” read the state regulations, “or be euthanatized humanely under the supervision of the pet animal dealership’s attending veterinarian.”
In the case of work animals like the Krabloonik dogs, “humane euthanasia” does include death by gunshot, but MacEachen has claimed that he stopped using that practice in 2005, after public outrage from dog lovers in the Roaring Fork Valley.
If an operation like Krabloonik fails to meet the minimum standards established by PACFA, it could open the door to a criminal investigation, according to Dr. Kate Anderson, who administers the state PACFA program.
“If things fall below those standards, it could fall into the criminal law with respect to animal neglect,” said Anderson. “Could any of [Hungates’s alleged abuses] be investigated? Sure. Have they been across the state? Sure.”
When accounts of the alleged continuing abuse at Krabloonik were published in local newspapers, a flurry of angry letters to the editor from valley residents ensued.
Bill Fabrocini, who leads the group Voices for the Krabloonik Dogs and has been pushing Krabloonik to improve its practices since 2005, wrote, “I have firsthand knowledge that the allegations against Mr. MacEachen, including the disappearance of dogs and dogs being denied medical care, are true.”
Despite the public outcry, though, Smythe said he hasn’t received any formal reports recently from people who have witnessed abuse at Krabloonik. At the state level, Anderson said the same.
Legal questions aside, dog-loving residents in the Roaring Fork Valley have repeatedly clashed with MacEachen over the years on moral questions about proper dog care.
In 2010, Fabrocini’s group convinced MacEachen to introduce several reforms to the way his dogs are treated, including allowing them off of their chains for at least an hour a week and refilling their water bowls twice daily, instead of just once.
“We obviously get people whose standard for animal care is different from what the law gives us the opportunity to enforce right now,” said Anderson.
Those differing standards came into sharp relief during the recent court hearing, when Hungate asked MacEachen whether he had ever heard of noted dog trainer Caesar Milan.
“Who is that?” MacEachen replied.
“The dog whisperer,” said Hungate.
MacEachen paused. “I’ve heard of him,” he said.