Stuart West's dog kennel in western Wisconsin had been the subject of multiple complaints to the sheriff’s office and the state Consumer Protection Department. Yet local authorities continued to reauthorize Alma Bottom Pointing Labradors' permit while never bothering to check out the facility.
Earlier this year, Pierce County Land Management officials finally got serious. They mailed West a letter, in which the breeder was scolded for not living up to the stipulations outlined in his conditional-use permit — stipulations such as inspections.
Before bureaucratic words turned into action, sheriff's deputies, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and the Golden Valley-based Animal Humane Society stepped in, executing a search on West’s 40-acre property, located about an hour's drive southeast of the Twin Cities.
They walked into a decade's worth of hell.
The raid at the 68-year-old's rural acreage found “carcasses everywhere,” according to the report. Deer, calves, and canines were among the remains. Sixteen dog carcasses were also found inside West's barn. One apparently had starved to death.
Investigators seized 48 yellow Labradors, 13 puppies and 35 adults that had been been living in cramped crates without water while being fed hunks of decomposing cow and deer. The confiscated animals were transported to the Golden Valley Humane Society.
West faces 117 misdemeanor animal cruelty counts, relating to poor ventilation, improper housing, and failure to provide food. He's scheduled to be in criminal court July 12.
Meanwhile, a civil case has cost him ownership of his dogs as well as a hefty toll.
Pierce County Court Commissioner Jorv Gavic last week ordered West to pay an estimated $88,000 to cover the cost of housing the dogs at the Humane Society, plus $20 per day for the next month for every animal that isn’t adopted. Since being taken, West's dogs have given birth to 25 puppies.
Though going after the responsible party's pocketbook seems like sound justice, what happens when the wrongdoer is broke?
According to court records, West has been sued 21 times over a total of $108,000 in delinquent taxes.
Pierce County attorney Brad Lawrence concedes "we really don't know" about West's assets, although he thinks property could be targeted as payment.
West declined comment on the April seizure and the conditions investigators found that day. He did say he's toiling around the clock to get his dogs back.
"I'll just put it this way," he says. "The county has made some very serious mistakes. [Defense lawyer Keith Belzer] and I are attempting to make them aware of the mistakes they've made so we might be able to find a negotiated settlement."
What an accord might look like, West wouldn't specify.
Pierce County District Attorney Sean Froelich was unavailable for comment.