ASPEN - The owner of Krabloonik in Snowmass Village, billed as the largest dog sledding operation in North America, was arraigned in Pitkin County Tuesday on charges of animal cruelty.
Dan MacEachen is accused of failing to feed and provide veterinary care for some of his dogs.
It was the first court appearance for MacEachen on eight misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.
During the proceeding, which took less than five minutes, MacEachen agreed to pay $4,516 for the care of eight dogs seized from his business last month.
He is due back in court for another hearing related to the case on Feb. 18 at 9:30 a.m.
9Wants to Know is also learning new information about a state inspection of Krabloonik last month.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture is releasing new details, and new photos.
As more information emerges about conditions at Krabloonik, we're seeing two drastically different views of the largest sled dog operation in North America.
One view is of 250 healthy dogs doing what they're bred to do.
Another view is what state inspectors call sick, malnourished animals.
9Wants to Know obtained a report from an inspection on Dec. 12.
Photos show dogs with open sores and others appearing weak, underfed, and badly in need of veterinary care.
MacEachen had no comment, walking into the courthouse in Aspen for his first appearance.
He told 9Wants to Know last week, he loves his animals and doesn't blame his critics.
"This is my life. This is my passion," MacEachen said. "Perhaps they don't have the education to understand what is really going on here."
Leigh Vogel is co-founder of "Voices for the Krabloonik Dogs."
The group says MacEachen has a history of documented animal abuse.
"[Animals] suffering over a long period of time for money," Vogel said. "We believe that they are used as commodities. That they are utilized and abused at the will of [MacEachen] the owner."
MacEachen served one year of probation in 1988 for breaking the bones in a dog's face.
He was widely criticized in 2005 for his longtime practice of shooting dogs in the head and dumping them in a feces-filled pit, a practice that is legal under Colorado law.
Voices for the Krabloonk Dogs took video in the summer of 2008, showing sled dogs in chains, running in circles.
The video shows animals left alone for most of the day.
Some dogs knocked over their water cans and others drank what looks like dirty water full of algae.
After the release of the video, Krabloonik increased staffing, providing more supervision during the summer months.
The group is also questioning a controversial business deal between Krabloonik and Snowmass Village.
The dog-sled business sits on town-owned property.
As part of a 20-year arrangement, MacEachen pays Snowmass Village just $10 a year to lease the land.
The town also gave MacEachen a piece of property which he sold for $2 million, and got to keep the money.
"We have a lease with Dan, which is a contractual arrangement. We have to maintain what it spells out in the lease," Snowmass Village Mayor Bill Boineau said.
Boineau is defending the deal, and MacEachen's treatment of the animals he's been breeding for 44 years.
"The way the dogs are being treated is good. But there possibly are some things that can be enhanced," Boineau said.
Court documents filed by MacEachen's lawyer claim the public attacks are part of a smear campaign, orchestrated by Krabloonik's former GM who tried to buy the business and a former employee involved in a custody battle over MacEachen's grandchild.
As the controversy grows, so does the scrutiny on Krabloonik.
The Aspen Times recently conducted a poll on the dog-sled operation.
It shows nearly 70 percent of those surveyed are against Krabloonik under its current ownership, 22 percent support it, and 8 percent are undecided.
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