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Veterinarian accounts clash in animal abuse investigation at Snow Mountain Stables

A few of the horses seized by the Grand County Sheriff's Office last week from Snow Mountain Stables during an animal abuse investigation at the Harmony Equine Center in Franktown on Monday. Granby veterinarian Mike Brooks disputes that the horses were abused by the stables.
Mike Brooks / Courtesy photo

Several complaints about poor living conditions and dead horses preceded the seizure of 144 horses from Snow Mountain Stables last week, according to a search warrant for the property.

Over the course of Jan. 11-12, the Grand County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado Humane Society transferred 144 horses to the Harmony Equine Center in Franktown for rehabilitation. Another 38 horses were released back to the owner.

One horse, which the sheriff’s office described as being severely emaciated and having untreated injuries, was euthanized after veterinarian Dr. Courtney Diehl with the Dumb Friends League determined the horse couldn’t safely travel.

Snow Mountain Stables owner Jim Peterman said he wouldn’t comment at this time per his attorney’s advice.

Laurie Peterson, director of marketing and communications for the Dumb Friends League, said the horses transported to the Harmony Equine Center were malnourished and many had serious untreated injuries, while others were suffering from lameness, cuts and abscesses.

“Quite a few of them were malnourished, needing food and water, and several of them had injuries that needed immediate veterinary care,” Peterson said Jan. 16. “At this time, all of the horses have had their initial evaluation, and the ones that needed veterinary care have gotten that.”

However, Granby veterinarian Dr. Mike Brooks, who has treated the Snow Mountain Stables horses for about two years, disputes the allegations of abuse, including the claims of malnourishment and severe injuries.

Brooks said that in his two years working with Snow Mountain Stables, he had not seen any signs of cruelty or abuse.

“It would be unusual for someone who was cruel or neglectful of their horse to spend money and have a vet do preventative maintenance,” Brooks said. “They were my No. 1 preventative care clients.”

One of the horses seized by the Grand County Sheriff's Office last week from Snow Mountain Stables during an animal abuse investigation at the Harmony Equine Center in Franktown on Monday. Granby veterinarian Mike Brooks said the majority of the horses at Snow Mountain Stables were in good body condition.
Mike Brooks / Courtesy photo

Customer complaints outlined in the search warrant for the property date back to November 2021, citing excessive uncleaned manure at the stables.

Grand County Animal Control didn’t find signs of abuse at that time but contacted Peterman in December after a report that two horses had died at the stables.

According to the search warrant, Peterman confirmed two horses had died, citing a twisted gut and injuries from rearing. He added that he planned to address the manure situation in the spring when the snow melted. He was also in the process of transferring about 100 horses from Nebraska to Snow Mountain Stables.

In December a complaint was made to the state’s livestock health veterinarian Carl Heckendorf about a wrangler overly cracking the reins. While following up on that complaint Dec. 30, Grand County Animal Control found that most horses on the property didn’t have access to food or water and came across a dead yearling in a pasture.

A stable employee told animal control the yearling had been ill prior to being moved to the stables from Nebraska.

Then a January complaint made to the Colorado Humane Society claimed that two dead horses were visible in a pasture during a sleigh ride, prompting Grand County Animal Control officers to reach out to the Colorado Humane Society to help investigate the health of the horses at Snow Mountain Stables.

On Jan. 10, Colorado Humane Society field investigator Kathleen Ruyak evaluated 36 horses and found 22 to be underweight. She also reported one dead horse, at least 85 horses that didn’t have adequate access to water, and several that had leg injuries and overgrown hooves.

Ultimately, Ruyak estimated about 20% of the herd was underweight or visibly in need of veterinarian care or farrier care.

Brooks was on-scene during the sheriff’s office seizure Jan. 11 as a representative for Snow Mountain Stables and also visited the horses at the Harmony Equine Center on Monday.

Brooks said he disagrees with Ruyak’s evaluation. He said the majority of horses were in good condition and noted that the few thinner horses were older.

Brooks used the same body scale to rate the horses as Ruyak but has a vastly different conclusion. He said weight is one of the best ways to determine a horse’s well-being.

“Those horses were the older horses, 20 to 30 years old, that weren’t being used. And old horses, like old people, tend to lose weight,” Brooks said. “I would say 90% of those horses were in good to excellent shape. Of course, in every herd, you’re going to have outliers and thin horses.”

Following the horse seizure, Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said each animal was evaluated on an individual basis, with some horses being in good medical condition.

“It’s undisputed that some horses were in good condition, but others were in bad condition,” he said.

Schroetlin emphasized that the sheriff’s office won’t be releasing photos of the horses because they are considered evidence.

“We’re in the very beginning stages of our investigation,” he said. “Our No. 1 goal is the welfare and safety of the animals.”

One of the horses seized by the Grand County Sheriff's Office last week from Snow Mountain Stables during an animal abuse investigation at the Harmony Equine Center in Franktown on Monday. Granby veterinarian Mike Brooks said he's done preventative care on the Snow Mountain Stables horses for roughly two years.
Mike Brooks / Courtesy photo

Brooks said he doesn’t doubt the intentions of the investigation, but he doesn’t believe it’s necessary. He took pictures and videos of the horses Monday, which he said show the horses in good health with few exceptions.

Brooks also said the investigation has been conducted irresponsibly, noting that neither he nor Peterman were contacted by the sheriff’s office prior to the seizure.

“Their intentions were wonderful; they just weren’t needed,” he said.

The investigation is ongoing and no charges have been filed.

Snow Mountain Stables is a private vendor under contract with the YMCA of the Rockies-Snow Mountain Ranch and is not owned or operated by the YMCA. That contract has been terminated, according to Amy Wolf, marketing manager for Snow Mountain Ranch.

“YMCA Of the Rockies – Snow Mountain Ranch is saddened by the events of this past week,” she said in an emailed statement. “We support the Grand County Sheriff’s Office and our entire community in our commitment to ensuring a safe place for all living things.”

Wolves attack more cows on North Park ranch

A ranch near Walden in North Park is dealing with its second wolf attack in as many months, Colorado Park and Wildlife confirmed.

Early Tuesday, Jan. 18, a pack of six wolves were reprtedly seen on the ranch in Jackson County, and CPW district wildlife managers responded to investigate. That revealed two cows that were injured, one of which was euthanized because of injuries.

“The results of this investigations indicated wolf tracks and scat in the immediate vicinity of the injured cows and wounds on both cows consistent with wolf depredation,” said CPW spokesperson Travis Duncan in a statement.

This is the third attack reported and confirmed by wildlife officers since December, when the same Gittleson Ranch east of Walden had a 500-pound heifer killed by wolves. Last week, wolves attacked two dogs on a nearby ranch, killing one of them.

Colorado voters narrowly approved the reintroduction of wolves in the state on the 2020 ballot. Two working groups and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission have been working to craft the plan to reestablish the predators. The ballot measure required wolves be reintroduced by the end of 2023.

Duncan noted that the wolves carrying out these attacks are not animals the state has reintroduced but rather some that have migrated down from Wyoming. Wildlife officers observed a pair of migrated wolves with pups last year, believed to be the first born in the state in decades.

Last week, the CPW Commission approved new rules to allow ranchers haze wolves away from livestock with nonlethal means like rubber bullets, guard animals and other deterrents, such as fladry. These rules were put into effect immediately, with the commission passing them as emergency regulations due to predation incidents.

“This incident is not related to or a result of wolf reintroduction,” Duncan said. “It’s also worth noting that the state has an existing depredation reimbursement fund for predation by other species.”

Though generally used when mountain lions or bears attack livestock, the fund is being used to reimburse livestock owners for these recent predation events, as well. The Technical Working Group and Stakeholder Advisory Group are currently looking at what the compensation program will eventually look like for depredations.

The stakeholder group has several hours planned to discuss compensation and risk reduction plans at its Jan. 26 and 27 meeting.

“Depredation compensation is required by statute and the final Colorado compensation plan will be part of the overall grey wolf reintroduction,” Duncan said.

Grand County Habitat for Humanity taking applications for homes

The Habitat for Humanity of Grand County work crew poses at the newest house in Hot Sulphur Springs, which should be complete in the coming weeks. Michael Bunker, the homeowner, is third from the right in the black cap. Habitat for Humanity of Grand County is now taking applications for two new homes.
Martin Smith/Habitat for Humanity

The Grand County chapter of Habitat for Humanity is currently taking applications for the two new homes to be constructed by 2023 in Hot Sulphur Springs.

Volunteers for Habitat for Humanity plan to begin construction on the two new homes on Nevada Street simultaneously this spring.

“The need for affordable housing in Grand County went from chronic to acute in the aftermath of COVID-19 and the 2020 East Troublesome fire,” Habitat Board President Martin J. Smith said. “Habitat’s dedicated volunteers and local contractors are stepping up their efficiency and effectiveness, and hope to complete two adjacent homes by spring 2023.”

Interested homeowners can start the application process by attending one of two Zoom meetings that will share details of the program. The Zoom meetings will be 6-7 p.m. on Feb. 3 and 10-11 a.m. on Feb. 5.

Habitat for Humanity qualifications

• Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident

• Have a qualifying credit score and verifiable income

• Have sufficient income to be able to pay a monthly mortgage payment. Habitat for Humanity of Grand County can consider applicants with income up to 80% of Grand County’s median income. (Approximately $4,206 per month for a family of two, or $5,252 for a family of four.) That means a Habitat partnership is a viable option for gainfully employed people such as firefighters, nurses, teachers, or other hard-working families in the county.

• Live in housing conditions that are not adequate for your family’s needs

• Have lived in Grand County for at least one year

• Commit 200 hours of volunteer time (for each household member over the age of 18) to help Habitat volunteers on local home-building projects, or help with fundraising events and mailings

To get the Zoom information, contact Habitat for Humanity of Grand County Executive Director Lisa M. Cooper at 970-887-9138 or habitatgrandcounty@hotmail.com.

The remainder of the application will be due Feb. 18.

According to the nonprofit, selected homeowners typically work alongside local contractors and volunteers to help build their homes and pay an affordable mortgage.

Volunteers have already constructed two Habitat for Humanity homes on Nevada Street in Hot Sulphur Springs.

Brower: Try not to be surprised by these start-up costs

It may seem hard to believe, but applications for new businesses in Colorado continue to outpace previous years.

In Grand and Jackson counties, those applications are on par, but not exceeding, past rates. With these new business ventures waiting in the wings to get started, I want to educate people here a little bit on the hidden costs of getting started.

I am gratified to report that for many of the entrepreneurs coming to me to start their businesses, they are generally aware that they will need insurance. But the details of insurance are important.

Yes, general liability is a good idea, along with professional liability and commercial auto and commercial property insurance. These need to be considered regardless of whether a business owns or rents the property in which they operate. Working out of home? There is home-based business insurance.

Is insurance really necessary? For some peace of mind, yes. But for many businesses, their clients and customers may want to know if the business they are working with is covered by insurance. For that reason, it’s good to have.

Will insurance cover a business for all problems and issues? Probably not. But having insurance that covers some issues is better than none at all.

For businesses who have employees, workers’ compensation insurance is a must. It’s expensive but you don’t want to be without it.

It’s easy to forget that for many businesses, permits and licenses are critically important. They generally cost money and take time to acquire. Restaurants, bars and breweries, for example, must have state and local permits (and sometimes federal, too) before they can sell a drop. These can take time and can be a hassle.

There are even requirements for permits to be an incorporated business in Colorado, which isn’t expensive, but is a good idea.

New business owners will want to be aware of the possible ongoing costs of using certain software for bookkeeping, inventory, payroll and perhaps other specific functions. These days these programs are billed monthly. Don’t forget that these software demands will likely require monthly payments that will affect cash flow, probably every single month or quarter.

Most of the clients we work with here in Grand County work for themselves. They should be aware of the obligation to pay self-employment taxes. That comes to 15.3% on net earnings, which is 12.4% for social security and 2.9% for Medicare.

For companies that have employees, that cost is split between the employee and the employer. The feds and the states may also have unemployment taxes that need to be factored into the cash picture as well.

Up-front operating funds are critical to the survival of almost all successful small businesses. This is money that an entrepreneur should have in the bank (or accessible through a loan) to cover operations for anywhere from three to six months. Six months is the best.

Many people simply don’t accept that for the first few months of a new business, there just won’t be enough cash pouring in to cover running the business.

There are other unexpected costs to consider, such as grand opening fees, special training and certification for managers and employees and perhaps the extreme cost of health insurance and other benefits for staff. It’s a very competitive world out there for hiring right now and having good benefits can help.

Oh, and don’t forget that if a business is being purchased, a title search and debt search is critical. A new business owner usually does not want to inherit the past debts and tax obligations of the previous owner. Check that out carefully.

Yes, it costs money to start or acquire a business. But in the long run the payoffs are great if preparations and planning takes place before starting or re-starting a business.

Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He offers free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached by calling 970-531-0632 or at patrickbrower@kapoks.org.


East Grand names three superintendent finalists

The East Grand School District Board of Education has narrowed down the top three picks for the district’s next superintendent.

On Tuesday, the board named the three finalists as Brad Ray, Dawn Pare and Eric Owen.

Ray is currently serving as the superintendent for the Garfield County School District 16. According to reporting by the Post Independent, Ray tendered his resignation with the district in November, effective June 30, citing in part the demands of the job.

Garfield County School District 16 serves the Parachute and Battlement Mesa area with about 6,500 students. Ray has been superintendent for the district for four years, after a year as the assistant superintendent at District 16, along with prior assistant superintendent experience at Garfield Re-2 and Roaring Fork Schools.

Pare has been an assistant superintendent at Weld County School District Re-1 since July, according to her LinkedIn profile. Prior to that, she was the district’s chief academic officer for two and a half years and the director of personnel for four and a half years.

Weld Re-1 has six schools and about 2,000 students serving the Gilcrest, LaSalle and Platteville areas.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Owen has been the principal at Mountainside Elementary, part of the Fountain Fort Carson School District, for eight years. The school has about 450 students in the Fort Carson area.

Early next month, the three candidates will conduct interviews with the school board and committee groups with the board expected to make a final decision on Feb. 15.

Current Superintendent Frank Reeves is retiring from the district after six years, with his last day to be June 30. The next superintendent’s tenure is expected to begin July 1.

Grand County libraries providing limited supply of KN95 masks

In partnership with the state, the Grand County Library District has received a limited supply of KN95 masks to be distributed to the public.

The masks are available at the five library branch locations throughout the county and available for pickup. At this time, distribution is through the honor system and is self-service, with one mask per person in a household per week.

This tight-fitting mask is the style recommended by Grand County Public Health to be worn in public places due to current levels of the omicron variant. The masks fit most adults and supply is limited, the library district noted.

See library locations and hours at gcld.org/locations.

Man arrested after breaking into bank

Fraser Winter Park Police arrested one man while responding to a call of a break-in at the Bank of the West in Fraser.

Around 4 a.m. Wednesday, police found a broken glass door at the back of the bank and attempted to get the man to exit the bank using a loudspeaker, according to a news release.

When there was no response, a K9 unit searched the bank and found a man hiding under a desk.

The man, identified as Joseph Roelandts, 23, was taken into custody for potential charges of trespassing and criminal mischief.

Roelandts was also treated for a minor dog bite wound by Grand County EMS.


Grand County police blotter, Jan. 9-15

The Grand County Sheriff’s Office fielded 177 calls from Jan. 9-15 while dispatchers answered 487 calls for all first-responder agencies in the county.

Monday, Jan. 10

2:19 p.m. — A family was reported for panhandling at the intersection of Thompson Road and US Highway 40, but police were unable to locate them.

Tuesday, Jan. 11

4:13 p.m. — The reporting party was receiving death threats from an unknown phone number.

Wednesday, Jan. 12

12:38 a.m. — Police responded to a business on US Highway 40 in Granby for a man that was refusing to quiet down.

6:42 a.m. — A man had been sleeping in the lobby of a building on Sixth Street in Kremmling.

3:16 p.m. — A man was urinating in public on US Highway 40 in Winter Park.

7:29 p.m. — An officer responded to a noise complaint on Mountainside ? in Granby.

8 p.m. — Fifteen to 20 horses were on US Highway 40 in Kremmling.

Thursday, Jan. 13

7:52 a.m. — A silver SUV illegally passed a bus on US Highway 34 near Dillie Docks.

1:57 p.m. — Money was reported stolen from a bank account.

6:27 p.m. — Counterfeit money was reported at a business on Agate Avenue in Granby.

Friday, Jan. 14

8:04 a.m. — A man was sleeping in the bathroom of a business on US Highway 40 in Winter Park.

10 a.m. — Moose were reported on Agate Avenue and Jasper Avenue in Granby. Colorado Parks and Wildlife was notified.

These are a small number of the calls fielded by Grand County’s dispatchers, first-responders and law enforcement agencies. The police blotter was put together by the Sky-Hi News with information provided by the Grand County Sheriff’s Office. It does not include any reports about alleged sexual assaults, child abuse, DUIs or domestic violence.

Granby asks for court judgment in Rodeo Apartments dispute

Granby has asked a judge to decide whether a contract with the developer of the Rodeo Apartments has been properly terminated.

The dispute centers on a piece of town-owned land restricted to attainable housing that developer Unicume Colorado had planned to develop. Nearly five years after discussions began with Unicome, more than two years after the planned closing date on the property and over a year after Granby began withdrawing from agreements with Unicume, a judge will likely determine the outcome of the dispute.

Unicume’s attorney, Jack DiCola, did not respond to a request for comment, but the company’s answer to the complaint is due Feb. 11.

Granby owns a parcel of land between the Silvercreek Subdivision and the Flying Heels Rodeo that has been deed restricted for attainable housing. Around 2017, Unicume and the town began discussions about the attainable housing project known as Rodeo Apartments on part of that property.

According to court documents filed by the town on Dec. 28, Unicume proposed that the development would consist of five or six two-story apartment buildings with a total of 106 units accompanied with amenities including a clubhouse, spa, fitness center, playground and much more.

In March 2019, the town and Unicume entered into a contract to allow Unicume to acquire the property — valued at $1.2 million — at no cost in exchange for Unicume constructing the project. The contract also projected a closing date of June 5, 2019 unless both parties agreed to an earlier or later date.

According to the complaint filed by the town, Unicume made repeated representations to the town in 2018, 2019 and early 2020 that it would construct the Rodeo Apartments “in a manner that complied with the attainable housing covenant on the property.” This included renderings of the buildings and amenities, which were presented at town board meetings.

The town’s complaint says that in August 2020, Unicume told town staff that it would not proceed with that plan. Instead, according to the town-filed documents, Unicume was only willing to design and construct “a project that consisted of 54 small, box-like duplexes without the amenities (Unicume) had previously represented.”

The complaint claims that Unicume never sought or obtained the town’s approval for these major changes. Additionally, Unicume never closed on the property despite the passage of more than two years since the anticipated closing date of June 5, 2019.

In January 2021, the town notified Unicume the contract had been terminated and provided Unicume with a quitclaim deed to enable the town to move forward with other proposals for attainable housing projects on the property.

In October 2021, Granby’s town board agreed to pay $30,000 to exit the contract with Unicume, but Unicume did not accept the town’s offer. According to a spreadsheet provided to the town at the time, the developer said it had spent at least $159,451 toward developing the project.

Unicume has declined to execute the quitclaim deed, and so the town moved forward with legal proceedings to clear the title.

The town’s complaint asks the court to declare that the town has properly terminated the contract and that Unicume has no further interest in the property.

The contract between Unicume and Granby also states that in the event of litigation, the court will award the winning party all reasonable costs and expenses including attorney’s fees.

Granby’s town board and staff has begun referring to the Rodeo Apartments project as the US Highway 40 workforce housing project. In the last year, the town has purchased a parcel of land to provide highway access to the land, invested in sewer infrastructure and begun design work for a new workforce housing project on the same land with a separate group.

Granby Rotary invites nonprofits to apply

The Rotary Club of Granby invites local nonprofits seeking project or general operating funds of up to $500 to apply to the Rotary Club of Granby for consideration.

The grant application can be found on the Rotary club’s website at www.granbyrotary.org or by emailing Susan Baird at susanbaird2@yahoo.com or Garrett Tibbetts at gwtibbetts@yahoo.com. Grant proposals will be considered by the grant committee and organizations will be notified within a month of application.

The Rotary Club of Granby meets every Wednesday at noon in the meeting room of the Granby Library and welcomes visitors and prospective members.