Krabloonik reformers in it for the long haul

by Catherine Lutz, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Group meets with MacEachen; changes moving forward

It’s going to take some time to resolve issues with dog welfare at the Krabloonik kennels and dog-sledding operation in Snowmass, according to a local citizen intent on reforming the business.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do. I know people hope we can resolve everything in a week but it’s going to take a lot longer,” LeeAnn Vold, co-founder of Voices for the Krabloonik Dogs, said Tuesday.

Vold and the group’s co-founder, Bill Fabrocini, had met with interested parties, including Krabloonik owner Dan MacEachen, on Tuesday morning to go over a laundry list of changes the group would like to see happen at the 260-plus dog business. This was just 16 hours after a somewhat tense and impassioned public appearance in front of the Snowmass Village Town Council on Monday, when more than 60 residents showed up in support of Vold and Fabrocini’s efforts.

According to Vold, the meeting, the group’s second with MacEachen, “went very well,” even though MacEachen was “taken aback” from the council meeting, where the crowd let out murmurs of indignation as he defended his operation.

“There was definite tension,” she said, adding that she apologized to him before they sat down to talk about reforms.

MacEachen could not be reached for comment.

Nearly 5,500 people have signed an electronic petition demanding that Snowmass officials “stop the inhumane treatment” of the Krabloonik dogs. The petition is accessed through the group’s Web site, which alleges animal cruelty, refers to Krabloonik as a concentration camp for dogs, and has several photos of sick, injured and distressed sled dogs.

But despite the more aggressive public campaign, Vold said the Krabloonik advisory committee, as they are calling themselves, is moving toward an action plan that improves the care of the dogs and is working in close cooperation with MacEachen and one of his mushers to do that.

The advisory committee recently added to its ranks Scott Dolginow, a vet at the Aspen Animal Hospital; dog trainer and behavior consultant Laura Van Dyne; former musher and Iditarod competitor Ed Foran (now an Aspen real estate agent); Friends of the Aspen Animal Shelter board member Anne Gurchick; and Bill Boineau, a Krabloonik neighbor and Snowmass mayoral candidate. The idea was to add a level of expertise in animal care and have a more diverse set of voices, said Seth Sachson, director of the animal shelter and a participant in the talks.

“It’s a good solid group, not just passionate people who want to nail [MacEachen] to a cross,” said Sachson, who said Tuesday’s meeting included a lot of education for both sides of the issue. “He’s willing to make a lot of changes, but money is a big issue.”

In the short term, the reformers will act as volunteers, walking some of Krabloonik’s older dogs and playing with puppies to get a feel for the place.

The committee decided to tackle several of the issues on the list of concerns, including better feeding and watering, off-tether exercise, socialization for the dogs, a staffing increase and proper veterinary care.

Some of the complaints against Krabloonik are that the dogs are not fed on Sundays, that they don’t receive adequate water, that they are chained to their plywood doghouses from May through November, and that wounds and illnesses are left untreated.

MacEachen did not agree to all the changes, said Vold, specifically a spay and neuter program.

Sachson said he feels MacEachen is from a different generation and believes he’s treating his animals properly as he has for the last 39 years he’s been running Krabloonik, but that he must realize that in Aspen people expect more.

“I think Dan does not reach out to the community and he needs to learn ways to let the community be involved,” he said, adding that better care and programs that allow the community to interact with the dogs could lead to a better image and ultimately higher revenues for his operation. Still, he said, the talks with MacEachen showed that “in dog talk, Dan has basically exposed his underbelly, but not in a submissive way.”

One of the biggest concerns is how to pay for the proposed changes — large pens, more staff and establishing public programs will be expensive, and MacEachen has claimed he is not flush with cash. Vold said her group is hoping to solicit donations to help.

“If it comes down to not having money, I don’t want to not do it, because this is Aspen,” she said, implying that money should not be an object in a wealthy and generous community like this one. “I know we’ll get a lot of backlash, people saying they don’t want to support this business, but we want to help the dogs.”

Both Sachson and Vold felt their actions will have to be independent from what they asked from the town of Snowmass Village, which offered to prepare a report on conditions at Krabloonik.

Sachson said he was offended by Councilwoman Sally Sparhawk’s reaction, who in turn was offended that the group hadn’t come to the council before launching a public and media campaign.

“There’s no way she could have not heard about what was going on,” he said, adding that because Vold and Fabrocini went beyond writing letters to the editor and persevered with their efforts, Sparhawk was “forced to deal with the issue.”

The town of Snowmass Village is MacEachen’s landlord, leasing the land for his kennels and restaurant for $10 per year.

Vold said she appreciated one councilman’s insistence that the report be put on a future agenda as a standalone item, and said that once the group has formulated an action plan it will probably come back to the town for more support.