The dogs at an embattled dog sledding operation have seen a lot of change in the last year. The owner of the Snowmass Village-based Krabloonik Fine Dining and Dogsledding was charged with animal cruelty in late 2013, and some dogs were seized. Others were adopted out. One constant has been new manager and now owner Danny Phillips and his wife Gina. Aspen Public Radio’s Elise Thatcher took a tour and filed this report. Editor's note: At the bottom of this article you can hear our interview with Voices for the Krabloonik Dogs, a group that's helped improve conditions for the sled dogs.
Danny Phillips heads down a set of wooden steps toward a flat, snowy area where the dogs are kept. “We’ll go into the main area of the kennel, and just kind of look around at the different styles and types of dogs." There’s more than two hundred dogs, all outside, and sitting on or near their own wooden doghouses on platforms. Each dog is tethered with a chain, and they seem generally content. Until we get closer, and the dogs start barking in excitement.
“So these are all yearling and two year old puppies that they haven’t run on a sled yet. So these guys will develop into what you see here, which is these great big guys,” explains Phillips. He points to older, calmer dogs on his right, some of whom are stretched out in their doghouses. There’s straw scattered inside and on the snow below.
“You can still see there is hound bloodlines in these dogs, they got the long legs, but they are a bigger dog," Phillips continues. "And our future that we want to portray is to get away from the hounds and get more into the traditional malamute sled dogs.”
The kind of dog breed was important in the investigation of animal cruelty before Phillips took over. The District Attorney’s office detailed reports of the hounds not being fed or sheltered properly. Phillips explains there’s a reason the previous owner, Dan MacEachen, bred them at Krabloonik.
“The breeding is based on the musher’s needs, so years ago, when Dan MacEachen was running the Iditarod, the Iditarod, in an endurance racing, you use 16 dogs. And the smaller dog was a dog that didn’t get injuries, didn’t get sore muscles and things as these bigger dogs," says Phillips. "For me, I’m doing tours, I’ll do some racing and things, but I want to portray the original, traditional husky, and you can can have a holistic approach to them, as far as feeding and care and massage.”
Phillips has been a musher, or sled dog caretaker and driver, for thirteen years. He actually started his career here at Krabloonik. Soon after, he left to train at other kennels, even running one with his wife, Gina. They prefer that more holistic approach of taking care of the dogs, which he learned from a Glenwood Springs outfit. The Phillipses returned to Krabloonik last November, just before dogs were seized and the charges came down against MacEachen. Danny Phillips is hesitant to dwell much on that time, but describes it as a traditional kennel-- where the dogs were kept on the skinnier side. “I brought in a different approach how to training, where I trained all the dogs, or I cared for all the dogs as if they were running 100 miles a day, and that was a different style of training, care and feed, than the traditional mushers have had. Always done one meal a day. That’s it.”
Now, Phillips carefully measures when and how much food and water the dogs receive. “At this time of day, I want to go through the kennel, and see every single dog has no water in it’s bowl. That’s always shocking, because what I do is I feed a thirty two ounces of a hot soup that has pure fat into it, and it’s hot, and it warms up the body from the inside. So when I go through the kennel at say eleven o’clock in the morning, I hope to see every bucket empty and I know that every dog got thirty two ounces of hot soup into their system first thing in the morning.”
Phillips and his wife say they want to get out the message there are changes to improve the wellbeing of the dogs at Krabloonik. They give spur of the moment tours, hired a film crew to be on site all season…and Phillips has even changed his name. He used to go by Dan, but now uses Danny, just to make sure he’s not confused with the previous owner.
Before we move on to another part of the property, Phillips walks around and talks with the yearlings and the older dogs, exchanging kisses. Then, the dogs begin to howl. Phillips explains what's happening.
"So those dogs are now saying, if you notice where the howl started, they’re grateful, and they’re saying thank you for the quick pat that I just went through and gave them…. They appreciate that I’m there and checking on them, and they like to see the pats. They’re just like old friends, they really are."
Danny and Gina Phillips will go before Snowmass Town Council in January, with hopes to finalize their lease for the property.
An advocacy group has played a big role in changing what goes on at Krabloonik Fine Dining and Dogsledding. Voices for the Krabloonik Dogs was co-founded by Bill Fabrocini about seven years ago. APR’s Elise Thatcher sat down with Fabrocini to find out what he-- and the organization-- think of recent changes at Krabloonik.