Custody battle puts Krabloonik on trial
September 27, 2013
The treatment of animals at the Krabloonik dogsledding operation in Snowmass Village is at the heart of a child custody dispute involving a former musher and the owner's daughter, based on testimony at a hearing Thursday in Garfield County Court. Testimony also revealed that the operation is under contract to be bought by general manager Guy Courtney.
Dan MacEachen, who has owned and operated Krabloonik for 40 years, said after the hearing that he couldn't discuss the deal but that he and Courtney have a contract, and its status now appears uncertain.
"The fact that he's talking to other people about it might void that contract," MacEachen said after the hearing. Courtney did not attend the hearing and declined to comment when reached by phone.
The custody dispute is between MacEachen's daughter, Bryna Erwin MacEachen, and former Krabloonik musher Curtis Hungate. Hungate was seeking to prevent Erwin MacEachen, a Krabloonik employee, from bringing the child they have together to the kennel now that he is no longer employed there.
"I've lost the ability to oversee what my child sees and learns," Hungate said.
Hungate also questioned Dan MacEachen about an incident in which a dog attacked his son in 2009. MacEachen said he separated the dog from the boy, whom the animal "had a hold of."
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Hungate and Erwin MacEachen's son was not injured after the dog attacked him in 2009, according to The Aspen Times. The Snowmass Village police at that time investigated a report alleging that MacEachen mistreated the dog after it attacked. The Pitkin County District Attorney's Office declined to prosecute.
"I feel like this has become a vendetta against my father and myself," Erwin MacEachen said during opening statements. "The issue that is being brought up has been settled."
Hungate said later in the hearing that MacEachen wants the boy to "carry a metal pipe" with him when he is going to be around the dogs.
"If (people) strike out at these dogs and these dogs strike out in fear, the end result could be death," Hungate said.
Hungate also alleged that changes implemented in the dogs' regimen recently, including being allowed to run freely on the grounds, are allowing more dominant dogs "to beat up on submissive dogs."
"The way things are being run there right now is actually training them to be aggressive," Hungate said.
Hungate was employed at Krabloonik over a period of five years. He made numerous allegations during his testimony regarding the treatment of dogs at the operation. He described an incident in which a dog attacked a puppy, and he accused MacEachen of beating the dog three times. Hungate alleged that the dog suffered injuries to her jaw, skull, ear, leg and ribs and lost some teeth.
"The dog was taken to her house," Hungate said. "Then she was thrown into the s— pit with the s— two mornings later."
When Hungate questioned MacEachen in court about the incident, he said, "That never happened."
MacEachen also replied "no" when asked if he'd ever been accused of neglecting or abusing dogs.
"I'd say he's been a very disgruntled employee, apparently an ex-employee at this point," MacEachen said when called to the stand a second time, after Hungate's testimony.
MacEachen said he believed not allowing his grandchild to be around him, his dogs and his horses would be a "misjustice."
"It's his playground," MacEachen said. "He enjoys every bit of it. He says hello to everybody by name."
Hungate called four former mushers as witnesses. Former musher Zach Mills, whose last season at Krabloonik was in 2008, said from his returning visits to the kennel that he hasn't "seen the changes that Krabloonik has promised."
Judge James Boyd said he would review the evidence and enter a written order resolving the issue of child support as well as whether the child is allowed to go to Krabloonik.
"If Guy Courtney buys the business, I plan on being there," Hungate told the court.