Stone: Let’s keep this simple: It’s all about the dogs
I have pretty much stayed away from the Krabloonik uproar. That’s mostly because it has been such a nasty squabble — and anyone who sticks his hand into the middle of a dogfight might wind up having trouble getting past eight maids a-milking when ticking off the days of Christmas on his remaining fingers.
Most of that nastiness has been focused on Krabloonik’s owner, Dan MacEachen, who seems to be — depending on whom you talk to — either a soft-spoken, dog-loving wilderness hero or a cruel bastard who just doesn’t give a damn about the animals on whose furry backs he makes his living.
Then, on top of the Dan debate, you toss in some unhappy ex-employees, the (possibly underhanded) tactics of a group trying to buy the business, the Snowmass revenue from taxes and tourists, and, just to ensure maximum unpleasantness, a vicious child-custody fight.
Adding all that, you stick your hand in and you might be lucky to count all seven dwarves on your remaining fingers.
But two letters to the editor in the Times brought the issue into focus by pointing out the obvious: It’s not about Dan MacEachen.
It’s about the dogs. Krabloonik’s 250 dogs.
One letter came from Voices for the Krabloonik Dogs, a group that has been trying to focus attention on the issue for quite some time.
That letter was addressed to Snowmass Mayor Bill Boineau, who made news in December with a high-handed decision to disallow any public comment on Krabloonik at Town Council meetings — one more nasty little knot in the tangle … and one that Snowmass voters may get to deal with at the next election.
The Voices letter does wade pretty deep into the details, but it comes back time and again to the heart of the matter: the dogs. It talks about “abuse and neglect” and “animal cruelty” — and poses this simple question to the mayor: “Do you have concerns about the welfare of the dogs?”
But the letter that really hit home for me was from Lynne Mace.
Her brief letter gets right to the point. It begins, “Keep sight of the real issue. Please remember — this is about animal abuse.”
Mace never strays from that focus, and she ends the letter with a question not for the mayor but for the Town Council: “Snowmass Town Council, what have you been doing … to stop animal abuse in your midst?”
Aside from that clarity, Mace’s letter carries real weight because she is the daughter of Stuart Mace, the man who brought dog sledding to the Roaring Fork Valley.
Stuart Mace trained sled dogs for the military during World War II and, after the war, established Toklat, a sledding operation high in the Castle Creek Valley.
Lynne Mace grew up at Toklat, with the dogs and with the sledding business. She cared for the dogs. She loved the dogs. She saw how her father treated his dogs and how he loved those dogs.
So when Lynne Mace speaks, I listen. She knows what she is talking about. And she cares.
And she says that things at Krabloonik have gone very wrong.
Now those who disagree with Lynne Mace have focused attention on the fact that these are “working dogs” — which certainly is true.
The argument is that working animals receive a different kind of care than pets. Pets are members of the household. Working animals come under the heading of “livestock.”
Working animals need to be cared for so they can get their job done. But sentimental attachment between owner and animal is optional. Farmers and ranchers can — and sometimes must — make simple, brutal, if sometimes painful, decisions about their livestock based on economic necessity. (No, I’m not saying they don’t love their animals. I’m just saying reality can intrude.)
We softies — the pet owners of the world — may be unable, or simply unwilling, to understand those necessary brutalities.
So be it.
But in this valley, in this community, I think it is fair to say that different rules apply.
We may mourn the disappearing ranching culture that once held sway here, but this clearly is no longer a ranching community.
As one might say: Dude, ranching rules do not apply.
This is a tourist economy. Dude-ranching rules may apply.
And so we have a right — an obligation — to demand that working animals in this valley are treated in a way that meets our standards.
I understand that Snowmass officials are not eager to hold MacEachen to these higher standards because they consider Krabloonik to be a significant tourist attraction. But I think they would cheerfully throw him to the wolves (or, if you prefer, to the dogs) if animal-rights activists were to start demonstrating, picketing, organizing a boycott or worse.
I think they have been damned lucky that hasn’t happened yet.
Forty years ago, when age began to catch up with him, Stuart Mace gave MacEachen his dogs and his dog-sledding business. It was a gift — and a trust. And it came with a promise from MacEachen to carry on in the spirit of Stuart Mace.
Lynne Mace clearly thinks that promise has been broken.
“It makes me very sad,” she said in an interview with 9News in Denver. “From a very noble business with noble animals and well-cared-for animals to a factory of funky-looking dogs not being taken care of.”
Seeking a clue to MacEachen’s philosophy, I looked at the “Our Mission” page on the Krabloonik website.
There are headings on that page for “Who We Are”, “What We Believe”, “How We Succeed” and “How We Behave”. It says they “specialize within the hospitality and wilderness adventure industry.” It says, “Our greatest asset, and the key to our success, is our people.” It even talks about “sound financial planning.”
But nowhere on that page is there a single mention of the dogs.
And that’s what it’s all about.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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