An Aspen Animal Shelter open house on Sunday, designed to give the community a chance to meet nine retired Krabloonik sled dogs, resulted in only one potential adoption.
Still, many people turned out for the event, the first of several adoption fairs being coordinated by the shelter and the Snowmass Village sledding operation. Krabloonik will hold one of its own on June 28, allowing the public to tour part of its facility and to meet another 50 adoptable dogs.
It’s all part of a plan by the embattled dog-sledding operator to find new owners for the retired runners, show critics that it cares about the canines and downsize its large kennel. Krabloonik owner Dan MacEachen has been under fire for many years by animal-rights activists and others concerning alleged ill treatment of the sled dogs. In December, following an investigation, the District Attorney’s Office charged him with eight misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. A jury trial in Pitkin County Court is set to start Oct. 8.
Meanwhile, shelter Director Seth Sachson is working with Krabloonik Operations Director Danny Phillips, whom MacEachen hired in November, to assimilate retired dogs into new environments. The nine Alaskan huskies at Sunday’s “meet and greet” are between 8 and 10 years old. Sled dogs tend to live to the age of 13 or 14, Sachson said.
Sachson addressed the fact that both he and the nonprofit alternately have been criticized and praised for working with Krabloonik.
“There are some people who say what you’re doing is a Band-Aid on cancer,” he said. “‘Leave them alone; let Krabloonik deal with their problems.’ But once you get to know (the dogs), it makes you want to wake up every day and take care of these dogs and find them homes. I get comments from every side every day.”
Over the past several years, the Aspen no-kill shelter has found homes for around 80 Krabloonik dogs, Sachson said. Before they are available for adoption, the shelter ensures that they are spayed or neutered and vaccinated. Friends of the Aspen Animal Shelter, the nonprofit fundraising arm of the local facility, has stepped in to assist some of the dogs requiring more serious medical attention, such as tumor surgery, Sachson said.
“Our nonprofit recently developed a more formal relationship with Krabloonik,” Sachson said. “We’ve offered to neuter 100 dogs in 2014 and take care of other miscellaneous medical bills that arise. Since 2006, Friends has paid the vet bills for any Krabloonik dog that we’ve accepted to the shelter.”
Sachson said the consensus throughout the Roaring Fork Valley has been: “Thank you for playing a role in helping the dogs, and we’ll leave the District Attorney’s Office or a jury the job of judging Dan MacEachen.”
Though there were no formal adoptions of sled dogs on Sunday, Sachson said none were expected. The shelter usually gives adoptable dogs to potential owners for a few days to gauge whether the relationship will work out.
However, an Aspen woman and her husband, Sarah and Brian Stevens, agreed to a trial period with one of the shelter’s more affectionate sled dogs, whose name is Chuck. Other Krabloonik canines available for possible adoption from the shelter are: Cleo, Mowgli, Timber, Peter, Johnson, Patch, Chicken and Rocket.
Sarah Stevens on Sunday evening echoed a point Phillips stressed earlier in the day that sled dogs are not like your typical house pets but that having one can be very rewarding.
Sled dogs are used to a certain environment, and they are bred and trained to run, run, run. The stevenses adopted a Krabloonik sled dog, Mars, about six years ago. He died after three years.
“Mars was like having a deer in the house,” Sarah Stevens said. “He was skittish but sweet and gentle. He took a long time to settle, but he got there. It’s not like having a golden retriever in the house, a dog that will curl up with you in front of the TV. He never totally relaxed. But we were just drawn to him for whatever reason.”
Chuck, who is 11, is not as anxious as Mars was when he was adopted.
“Sled dogs are wonderful and very gentle,” Sarah Stevens said. “Chuck has a nice presence and is undemanding. He’s curious, and he meanders a bit. It feels good to give one of these dogs a home; they’ve worked hard all of their lives.”
Sachson is a big fan of sled dogs and has a few of his own.
“Obviously, Krabloonik is stepping up big-time because of public pressure,” Sachson said. “But (Danny Phillips) came along, and I think he’d rather find them homes than euthanize them. Now it’s up to the public to step in and provide a home for these dogs.
“The public could say, ‘What are you talking about? We shouldn’t have to provide homes; they should be responsible for their own dogs. And they shouldn’t keep breeding them.’ So, it’s like, who’s right and who’s wrong? All that I say is, criticize me if you want, but there are dogs there that need homes right now. I run an animal shelter, and I’m willing to take them in and work with (Danny Phillips) to help them.”
For more information about the Krabloonik open house on June 28, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact Sachson at the animal shelter, call 970-544-0206.