Krabloonik defends culling of pack
April 4, 2005
People familiar with dog-sledding said Monday that killing dogs occasionally is a necessary part of the business and that the recent outcry about Krabloonik is based on ignorance.Several letters to the editors of local papers have heavily criticized Krabloonik, a dog-sled operation above Snowmass Village, for being cruel to the animals. Nothing could be further from the truth, said Krabloonik’s manager and the daughter of the former owner.A letter sent to both papers last week said dogs that didn’t “work out” were shot in the head and dumped in an excrement pile used to collect the dogs’ waste. In an article in Monday’s Aspen Daily News, Krabloonik owner Dan MacEachen confirmed that some animals are culled each year to maintain the health of the other dogs, which live in close proximity to one another.There are about 250 dogs in Krabloonik’s operation, which takes tourists on sled rides. The company also operates a restaurant near its kennels.Tammy Vanderpol, who has been Krabloonik’s office manager for seven years, said yesterday’s article and the letters to the editor have blown the situation out of proportion. “We’re all dog owners here,” she said.Nevertheless, Krabloonik’s reputation has taken a beating. Vanderpol said e-mails have come in saying the operation should be shut down. E-mails have said, “How could we do this? How can you be inhumane to your dogs who have fed you and kept you in money all these years?” according to Vanderpol.
MacEachen apprenticed under local environmental legend Stuart Mace, who started the Toklat dog-sledding operation at Ashcroft in 1949, from 1970 to 1974. Mace later gave the kennels to MacEachen, who moved them to Snowmass Village in 1975 and named his operation Krabloonik, after his lead dog.Mace’s daughter, Lynne, said she wasn’t surprised to find out dogs are occasionally shot. She said she thinks MacEachen learned that that was part of the deal when he took over for her father.”No matter what my father did, we all have the right to do what we want with our animals,” said Mace, who runs the Toklat art gallery. “If I am allowed as a private citizen, and Dan is a private citizen, to do what I need to do with my animals, whether they are pets or horses or livestock, then Dan needs to be able to do what he needs to do. I think the social problem is what happens afterwards.”Dan has a right to do what he wants to do.”Critics have said more of an effort should be made to put unwanted dogs up for adoption. A few do find new homes, but former Krabloonik musher Harry Portland said in his letter to local papers only about 1 percent are adopted out. He said about 5 percent of Krabloonik dogs are culled annually.”The kennel population averages about 250 dogs,” wrote Portland, a Basalt resident. “You do the math. Not a pretty picture for the postcards, is it?”
Efforts to reach Portland for further comment were not successful. Three heartwarming paintings of dog-sledders hang above the bar at the Krabloonik restaurant. They portray the musher lovingly showering attention on their dogs. This is closer to the real Krabloonik, Vanderpol, the office manager, said.”We love our dogs, but they’re animals and they’re working animals,” she said. “[Culling dates] back hundreds of years. This is nothing new. Dog-sledding is a very old practice. This is part of the circle of life for the dog-sled dog. When we can, we do adopt them out. But there are some circumstances where we can’t. You get too many dogs [out] here and disease happens.”MacEachen, who was not available for comment yesterday, has a good reason if he has to put a dog down, Vanderpol said. “It’s not just because they’re in the way or they can’t pull a sled.”I know Dan’s view on that is if we do adopt all these dogs out, if one of them causes damage, if one of them, from being used to this type of life, interacts with another domesticated animal and that dog gets hurt, or they run loose and eat chickens or whatever, then it’s all going to fall back on Dan. He doesn’t want to fall into that.”Musher Joshua Townsend said it is easy for tourists to get the wrong idea about Krabloonik.
“I think it’s a lot of people who come here and they get a first glance, maybe walking out the door, of something they don’t like,” he said.”When you have such a big operation, there’s going to be wet dogs and there’s going to be dogs that we can’t get all the snow [removed] from around their houses,” said Townsend, who has worked at sled-dog operations in Oregon and Alaska. “Every day we go through this whole place and clean up all the shit. Every day this place is cleaned, we water the dogs sometimes twice a day when it’s really hot. This place is well taken care of.”It hasn’t been all bad news for Krabloonik and MacEachen. Other e-mails have been “supporting us all the way,” Vanderpol said. And the recent complaints have done nothing to hurt Krabloonik’s business, at least this winter.”This has been a stellar year. Our numbers are way up,” Vanderpol said. Asked if the recent controversy may hurt future business, she said, “I’m not worried. I’m disappointed in the ignorance of the people – how they can lash out without having any true knowledge.”Dan’s not in this for the money. He’s in this because he loves doing this. This is who Dan is.”Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is email@example.com