New sled dog owners in Snowmass seek permanent lease |

New sled dog owners in Snowmass seek permanent lease

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times
Gina and Danny Phillips, Krabloonik's directors of operations, signed papers Wednesday formalizing their purchase of the dog-sledding and restaurant business.
Aubree Dallas/Aspen Times |

Krabloonik’s new owners will be back in front of the Snowmass Village Town Council today to make their case for permanent assignment of the dog-sledding operation’s lease.

On Dec. 1, the council granted a conditional transfer of Krabloonik’s lease to Danny and Gina Phillips, who have since finalized their purchase of the business from founder Dan MacEachen. MacEachen is facing charges of animal cruelty, for which he will stand trial in May, and because of the business’s history, the council wants to further interview the couple and consider adding some care requirements to the terms of the lease.

The Phillipses will present their plans for animal care and business operation in a public hearing at today’s meeting. Those run the gamut from new feeding practices to reducing the size of the pack, which was at about 250 under MacEachen’s leadership, to a “manageable number of dogs between 170 to 200,” as they said in a document submitted to the town.

They hope to accomplish that by not breeding as often, spaying and neutering some animals and adopting out older dogs as well as those that don’t have thick, heavy coats. MacEachen, a successful dog-sledding racer, began mixing his animals with short-haired, hound types often used for competition, but some members of the public as well as veterinarians have said they aren’t as well-suited to the cold.

Thirty-five Krabloonik dogs were adopted in 2014, Danny Phillips said. Seth Sachson, director of the Aspen Animal Shelter, has helped find adopted homes for Krabloonik sled dogs for many years and has lent a hand in many of those.

“I’ve always taken the older dogs, but more recently I’m also taking younger dogs that are really happy, healthy, athletic dogs,” Sachson said. Getting back to a breed that’s more suited to low temperatures will be healthy for the pack, but it’s also a smart business move, Sachson said.

“It’s what everyone expects when they go up there,” he said.

Sachson, who worked for a season at Krabloonik in the ’90s and adopted his own racing team from MacEachen, helped find 10 dogs homes in 2014 by contacting a musher friend from the Telluride area, who spread the word to other owners. In another success story, a Snowmass Village resident fell in love with a dog he brought to the K-9 Uphill on Buttermilk last spring and wound up adopting it and its sister.

“It makes me feel good to play a role,” he said.

Friends of the Aspen Animal Shelter, a nonprofit that raises funds for the group, also donated money for a spay/neuter program at Krabloonik. Through that program, 100 dogs underwent the procedure in 2014, the Phillipses said in their statement to the council.

In addition, several other animals have found homes in 2014 with the help of Voices for the Krabloonik Dogs, a group that often spoke out against MacEachen’s management of the business. Former Aspen resident David “Sammy” Samuels, now in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, has helped find families in Wyoming for several animals and still has three of them in his home, said member Leigh Vogel. Those three dogs include Dasher, one of eight animals seized from the Krabloonik premises in December 2013, who achieved local fame when he ran away from a foster family and a valleywide search effort mounted for him last summer.

Times a-changin’

Danny and Gina Phillips owned their own dog-sledding business in Sandpoint, Idaho, before joining the Krabloonik team in November 2013. The council packet is full of articles touting their passion for dog-sledding and care of their animals, as well as letters of thanks from guests and students who took field trips with the kennel.

With the sale of Krabloonik, MacEachen also sold the Phillipses all of the dogs on the premises — including his personal racing team — and his racing equipment. Danny Phillips says he wants to compete with a team of bigger, healthier animals and showcase a more modern approach to sled-dog training.

“I think it’s important for me to get out in the racing world again,” Phillips said. “We’re the largest kennel in the U.S., and now it’s time to be the best kennel in the U.S.”

The purchase agreement also acknowledges that the Town Council has the right to deny the Phillipses the lease, in which case they will return all of the stock to MacEachen.

The council meeting starts at 4 p.m. in Snowmass Village Town Hall. The council is expected to recommend amendments to the lease and take action on it in a subsequent meeting.

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