Krabloonik owner Dan MacEachen pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty in Pitkin County Court on Tuesday, setting the stage for a legal showdown in about six months.
Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely set Oct. 8 for the start of a three-day jury trial. MacEachen’s arraignment on Tuesday afternoon was completely procedural, with no comments from District Attorney Sherry Caloia or MacEachen’s attorney, Greg Greer, about the allegations. Krabloonik is a dog-sledding operation based in Snowmass Village.
The 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in December charged MacEachen with eight misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, each relating to a dog said to be malnourished or requiring medical care. In March, MacEachen’s arraignment was continued for a third time. Greer and Caloia said they were continuing to talk about a potential plea bargain.
Those discussions apparently failed, given Tuesday’s not-guilty pleas and Fernandez-Ely’s scheduling of a fall trial. Greer declined to comment following the hearing.
“We’ve talked about various dispositions and nothing is sticking,” Caloia said. “It’s a difficult case. It’s not like your normal DUI, or DWAI, or some type of deferred (judgment). We’re talking about a large operation and the effects of a criminal prosecution would be very detrimental. I’m very conscious of the problem that this particular prosecution has on Mr. MacEachen’s business.”
Leigh Vogel, representing the nonprofit group Voices for the Krabloonik Dogs, said Tuesday that the organization is “hopeful and confident that the legal process will ultimately secure higher standards of care” for the hundreds of dogs at Krabloonik.
“We hope that community leaders and local citizens will also support a sustainable plan of care that ensures proper oversight from birth through retirement of the sled dogs in Snowmass, inclusive of off-season programs,” she said.
The organization, founded in 2008, says it has received firsthand reports of animal cruelty at Krabloonik dating back to the 1970s.
Activists recently have lobbied Snowmass Village’s elected officials to hold a public discussion regarding the kennel, which MacEachen operates on land leased from the town. On Feb. 18, the council voted, 3-2, to schedule such a meeting, despite saying earlier that it would wait for the criminal case to be resolved.
But in March, Town Attorney John Dresser again suggested a delay.
“I’ll remind you of my advice from the day the investigation was launched, (which was) there should be no communication from this body: no presentation, no anything so that you in no way compromise or interfere with the district attorney’s ability to get to the very question that this body has had throughout the years … since the lease went into effect,” Dresser said. “My advice hasn’t changed. Your acceptance of that advice has changed.”
One of the eight dogs seized by Caloia’s office in December has since been diagnosed with cancer and euthanized. The other seven canines are under the care of Colorado Animal Rescue in Glenwood Springs.
In January, Caloia and Greer told Fernandez-Ely that they had come to terms on the costs of food, shelter and veterinary attention for the dogs. The bill came to $4,516.32, and MacEachen agreed to provide a payment to Caloia, who planned to turn it over to the Glenwood Springs shelter.
The next court date in the matter, to address motions in the case, was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on June 24.
A hearing to discuss jury instructions was set for Sept. 23. A pre-trial readiness conference was scheduled for Oct. 7, the day before the trial’s start.