Protesters who were at the base of the Silver Queen Gondola on Monday calling for changes in the Krabloonik dog-sledding operation could get what they want if the business’ owner is convicted of animal cruelty.
That’s according to an official in the Colorado Department of Agriculture, which has oversight on operations involving animals like Krabloonik, and Town Attorney John Dresser, who cited lease terms between owner Dan MacEachen and Snowmass Village.
MacEachen is due to make his first court appearance next month on eight misdemeanor cruelty counts. The charges are tied to eight dogs that the district attorney’s office seized Dec. 12 for allegedly being malnourished or in need of veterinary care.
The town owns the land on which Krabloonik sits, the result of a 2002 land swap. At the time, the business was suffering financially. With the town seeking to keep afloat a valuable source of tourism and tax dollars, council members voted for the town receiving the nearly 2-acre Krabloonik property in exchange for MacEachen getting the title to a 0.7-acre parking lot.
Four years later, MacEachen obtained a rezoning approval that allows a single-family home to be built on the lot and sold the property for $2.3 million. Krabloonik now uses a piece of land from the Divide subdivision for its parking area.
Also in 2006, he and the town entered into a 20-year lease in which he pays the town $10 a year in rent for the Krabloonik site. In 2016, MacEachen will be able to exercise an option to buy the property back if the dog-sled operation and its restaurant have continuously operated for the 10-year period.
But the criminal charges could skew that possibility.
One condition of the lease is that MacEachen comply with all laws and requirements of federal, state and municipal governments, Dresser said.
“Tenant shall not use the premises for any purposes deemed unlawful, disreputable or extra hazardous,” the lease reads.
“If Dan’s convicted, that would not be compliance,” Dresser said. “Failure to comply would be a black-and-white issue that the town could terminate the lease on.”
Were council to take such action — a step many of the protesters who were on Durant Avenue on Monday have called for — it would effectively evict MacEachen.
The owner, who has been in business for nearly 40 years, would have a “cure period” under the lease. That allows a reasonable amount of time to rectify a lease violation, Dresser said.
For example, when Krabloonik a few years ago exceeded the allowed number of dogs it can have on site under its land-use approval, the town gave MacEachen notice.
“They obviously breed to have enough dogs to do this,” Dresser said.
But if a female has an unexpectedly high number of pups, they cannot be sent away from their mother until they’re weaned. So the town allowed Krabloonik to fix the violation by either euthanizing older dogs, adopting them out with help from the Aspen Animal Shelter or taking dogs to MacEachen’s property in Alaska.
Snowmass officials gave MacEachen until the spring of that year to remedy the violation in order to allow Alaskan roads to thaw.
“The town cooperated a little bit and allowed him to get to Alaska,” Dresser said. “We don’t like putting dogs on airplanes.”
At the state level, Dr. Kate Anderson, administrator of the Pet Animal Care and Facilities Act program in the state agriculture department, said her office continues to investigate Krabloonik with the DA’s office. The state licenses Krabloonik as a small-scale dog breeder.
“My statute says if a person is convicted of animal cruelty, we can deny or revoke a license,” she said.
That can happen at any time, though notice is given, Anderson said.
“Everyone has the opportunity to reply to a revocation notice,” she said.
Asked how much a conviction weighs on her office’s decision to revoke a license, Anderson said, “Very heavily.”