Burden of proof is on Krabloonik Dog Sledding to show compliance with state, local rules

“We’re taking his word for it,” review committee member says

Krabloonik Dog Sledding in late April 2021.
Kelsey Brunner/The Snowmass Sun

Two groups are tasked with inspection and review of Snowmass Village’s Krabloonik Dog Sledding: the Colorado Pet Animal Care Facilities Act Program (a state licensing and regulation agency) and the Krabloonik Best Practices Review Committee (a local group of citizens appointed by the town of Snowmass Village and the owners of Krabloonik).

The PACFA program is responsible for ensuring that Krabloonik is meeting the minimum requirements established by the state. The Best Practices Review Committee is responsible for determining the extent to which Krabloonik is complying with a Best Practices Plan attached to Krabloonik’s lease with the town of Snowmass Village. (Krabloonik leases the property for $10 a year from the town through 2026.)

By and large, the “burden of proof” to show that Krabloonik is in compliance falls on the facility operators, who maintain and provide the records showing that they’re meeting requirements and best practices.

Pet Animal Care Facilities Act

The PACFA program licenses and regulates more than 2,300 facilities in Colorado and aims to inspect each of those facilities at least once per year, according to an email from program section chief Nick Fisher. The program also investigates about 750 complaints per year, about 30% of which are unlicensed facilities.

An inspection involves an overall review of facilities to ensure that they are compliant with all PACFA regulations; an investigation aims to determine whether the specific allegations detailed in a complaint occurred, Fisher said in an interview.

The program staff includes six inspectors who look into licensed facilities, one investigator who only works complaints on unlicensed facilities and one hybrid inspector/investigator who does both, Fisher wrote.

With the program’s current staff, PACFA is only able to inspect about 80%-85% of the 2,300-plus facilities on an annual basis, Fisher said.

Each inspector is assigned a territory with about 350-400 facilities and has a target of conducting 10 weekly inspections, but that is not always possible to complete within each inspector’s four 10-hour work days each week, Fisher said.

There is no minimum or maximum time that a PACFA staffer is required to spend on site, according to Fisher. Inspections might take a few hours; some investigations of a “complicated complaint may take a lot longer, and a lot more resources and a lot more time to investigate that complaint,” sometimes taking “weeks and months to complete,” Fisher said.

Facilities have 20 days after an inspection to address any violations; multiple direct violations may result in a “failed inspection,” Fisher has said, and three failed inspections “could be the potential for the revocation of their license.”

In complaint investigations, “the burden of proof is on us in order to prove that allegation actually occurred,” Fisher said.

It’s on the facility, however, to produce and maintain records that show compliance with PACFA regulations, according to Fisher. Inspectors and investigators observe records on site for compliance verification but “we don’t make copies most of the time, we don’t keep them,” Fisher said.

“We are not a repository for records. … If somebody asked, ‘Well, do you have all the documents showing what time they exercised?’ We do not,” Fisher said.

Fisher is referring to records of executing an exercise plan that Krabloonik is required to follow to maintain a tethering waiver.

State regulations prohibit the use of dog houses with chains as an enclosure, but “facilities that breed, train or house Alaskan dog breeds or Alaskan breed crosses, specifically for the purpose of pulling dog sleds, and that have no current disciplinary matters pending before the (state) Commissioner (of Agriculture)” can request a waiver, so long as they submit and implement an exercise and training plan for the dogs, according to PACFA rules.

Krabloonik’s request for a tethering waiver was submitted in 2017 and remains in effect so long as they are in “good standing” with PACFA, Fisher wrote in an email. Krabloonik must submit an updated exercise plan each year.

A report from a PACFA inspection and investigation on Jan. 18 indicates that Krabloonik submitted a copy of the 2020, 2021 and 2022 exercise plan for the dogs via email on Jan. 20.

That documentation was considered sufficient to correct a violation in which Krabloonik had provided a 2018 exercise plan at the Jan. 18 inspection, according to the report from inspector Kari Kishiyama.

However, the updated exercise plans are not yet available for release because “those records are part of the information that we are still looking into as part of our current investigation,” Fisher wrote in a March 1 email. That open investigation is in addition to the now-closed investigation conducted on Jan. 18.

As of March 1, Fisher wrote that he believed Kishiyama was “currently reviewing the information that was sent to her by the facility” to correct some other violations identified in the Jan. 18 report.

Best Practices Review Committee

The “burden of proof” is on the facility operators when the Krabloonik Best Practices Review Committee conducts site visits at Krabloonik, according to committee member Seth Sachson. The Best Practices Plan attached to Krabloonik’s lease with the town of Snowmass Village includes a commitment to an “excellent off tether program” and an off-season exercise program with intents to “increase time off tether as the program develops.”

It’s up to Krabloonik’s operators Danny and Gina Phillips to show that they’re in compliance with the Best Practices Plan and are following that commitment, said Sachson, who is the only remaining member of the committee.

“For the general public, it’s very difficult, even for our advisory committee, to know, you know, to the best of our knowledge, she was rotating these dogs off tether, but you know, we’re taking his word for it,” Sachson said. “As an advisory committee, we don’t have the right to go dig through all of his paperwork.”

Snowmass Village Town Manager Clint Kinney said in a phone call March 1 that the committee can request records but “they can’t just walk up and demand” documentation.

Sachson and prospective committee member Bill Fabrocini also have noted that it is difficult to assess the commitments in the Best Practices Plan because of some abstract language that lacks quantifiable measures across multiple commitments.

The tethering practice and off-tether program described in the Best Practices Plan, for instance, states that the program “ensures each individual sled dog is treated as an individual and all of their needs are met” but does not state minimum off-tether time or a minimum staff-to-dog ratio to ensure that all dogs get time to free run.

“They’re just not objective data to establish minimal standards, and whether they’re met or not,” Fabrocini said in an interview. “It’s very, very blurred and casual, so I don’t know how any committee could be effective in saying what is being met and what isn’t met.”

Reports from the committee are intended to inform the town as well as Krabloonik ownership of Krabloonik’s compliance with the Best Practices Plan and “may include suggestions for modifications or clarifications to the Best Practices,” according to Krabloonik’s lease.

The committee also “may submit reports to the Town Manager describing any circumstances or events which the BPRC believes violate the Best Practices or jeopardize the health, safety or well-being of the Krabloonik sled dogs,” the lease states.

Kinney said the determination of whether any committee reports could substantiate a violation of the Best Practices would potentially fall on the Town Council but “we’ve never gone down that path so (the process would be) really a little bit to be determined.”

Conversations about clarifying the language of the Best Practices Plan have already begun, Kinney said in a previous interview.


See more