Krabloonik steps closer to long-term lease deal

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times

The new owners of Krabloonik are one step closer to having a long-term lease for the dog-sledding business after Monday’s Snowmass Village Town Council meeting.

The council had granted a temporary lease to Danny and Gina Phillips on Dec. 1 so they could open the business in time for the holiday season. But in light of past controversy and a criminal case against the business’s former owner, the council wanted to further evaluate the couple and consider a heavier hand in the animals’ welfare.

On Monday, the Phillipses presented their plans for animal care and reducing the size of the pack, now close to 250, to about 170 to 200 animals by spaying and neutering and adopting out some dogs. In a document titled “Best Practices,” Gina Phillips explained their approach and the reason for how they do everything from tethering — which allows the dogs to interact safely with one another and for the mushers to monitor individual animals’ health — when and what they’re fed and how Krabloonik will determine whether to euthanize an animal.

Mayor Markey Butler said in order to move forward with transferring the lease, which is set to expire in 2026, she thinks it is imperative to create a resident advisory group as well as some kind of organized monitoring of the animals’ care. Butler and some others in the room said they don’t think the state’s standards, which are enforced by a program of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, are enough.

“You’re doing a great job, but come on: We gotta prove to the world that we’re doing OK,” Butler said.

Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk said the town could explore including penalties in the lease in the case of any violations or wrongdoing. Town staff members are going to explore those different options and work with the Phillipses on them, after which the council will consider a new draft of the lease.

Members of the advocacy group Voices for the Krabloonik Dogs said this was the most action they’d ever seen from the council on this issue. The Voices group formed more than six years ago to advocate better care of the dogs on the part of former owner and founder Dan MacEachen, who will stand trial for animal-abuse charges in May, and greater regulation by the council.

“We think this is the time we can all … make sustainable changes in the best interest of the dogs,” member Leigh Vogel said.

Voices group member Bill Fabrocini threw his support behind the Phillipses, but cautioned the council that no one can predict the economic viability of the business under their ownership. The lease should have “some grit” in it, he said, to ensure that the dogs are well taken care of regardless of who’s running the business.

The Phillipses are hoping to have the new lease by the end of February. They said they would want to talk to the town more about how it would select people for a resident advisory group, but for the most part, they felt comfortable with what the council was asking of them.

“There seems to be a lot of new, and I hope the past doesn’t hold up the new,” Danny Phillips said.

Purchase option

A question raised by Councilman Chris Jacobson was whether the town wanted to consider other uses for the property, which it acquired in 2006 in a land swap with MacEachen.

However, when the town acquired the property, it also entered into a covenant with the neighboring Divide subdivision, which limits the land to certain uses. For example, it can’t be used for another commercial use or for a multi-residential building, such as an affordable-housing complex.

The current lease includes a purchase option, giving the tenant the right to buy the land after 2016 for a price determined by a formula in the document. Councilman Bill Madsen said he wanted to consider omitting the option from the new agreement.

However, he backed off somewhat on learning the limitations of the property, and as Town Attorney John Dresser pointed out, eliminating it would change the value of the business that the Phillipses just acquired.

“I think that I’m happy,” Jacobson said. “I’m positive about trying to embrace (the Phillipses) moving forward. If I were in your place, I’d be looking at (the purchase option) as a big part of my deal.”

The “only ugly option,” he added, would be not transferring the lease to the couple and having the business returned to MacEachen.

“Then the crisis continues,” he said.