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Humane Society raises $20k amid Stu West case

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. -- A fundraising effort by the Golden Valley, Minn.-based Animal Humane Society is using the case of Stuart E. West, the Elmwood man suspected of running a puppy mill, to support housing and feeding costs for the dozens of yellow Labradors in its possession.

In an email to supporters, the AHS asks for donations that will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $10,000, from a “generous donor.” Because of the rare circumstances surrounding the large-scale case -- the AHS is housing 69 dogs, most of which were seized in an April raid with Pierce County law enforcement and the ASPCA -- officials at the nonprofit claim they’re trying to ease the financial burden on everyone involved.

“It’s fairly common in large-scale cases,” AHS spokesperson Zach Nugent said. “It goes back to the organization so we can go back and support the animals long-term.”

The AHS achieved its $10,000 matching donation and the private donor was an individual who asked to remain anonymous, according to Nugent.

In a celebratory Facebook post June 27, the nonprofit said, “We’ve reached the $10,000 match but are still accepting gifts that are critical in supporting the increase in animals during the summer, our busiest time of year.”

When deputies, health department officials and the animal-care organizations arrived at 68-year-old West’s unlicensed dog kennel facility amid rural farmland, they found 35 adult dogs, some cramped two to a crate, with some crates stacked two- or three-high and additional decomposed dead dogs in the yard. There were also rotting deer and cow carcasses which were being used as food for the dogs. At the time, West had 13 puppies at his house.

Since then, 25 puppies have been born in the AHS’ care.

West is facing 117 misdemeanor animal-related charges in criminal court. In a civil lawsuit against West on June 23, Pierce County Court Commissioner Jorv R. Gavic granted legal ownership of the animals to the government and ordered West to pay the estimated $90,000 for costs associated with the raid and housing the dogs.

The Labradors are expected to be used as evidence in the government’s criminal charges against West, where the next hearing is scheduled for July 12.

“The legal proceedings could take many more weeks, which means these innocent pups must wait even longer before they can stop being evidence and start being dogs -- and finally find the homes they deserve,” the fundraising email reads.

“As it goes through the court process, really, prior to them relinquishing custody to the county, we house, feed and water (the dogs), and treat immediate medical needs,” Nugent said.

In the lawsuit hearing, an AHS veterinarian told the court the dogs had everything from ear infections and tick-borne diseases like Lyme, to dental deficiencies and lumps or masses.

Now that the county has legal possession of the animals, state law allows officials to release, sell or euthanize the dogs.

Nugent said once the court proceedings conclude, however, and the animals are ready to be adopted out, the organization will address spaying, neutering and any additional vaccinations.

“As for euthanizing, our organization, we don’t euthanize because of space or time,” Nugent said. “The only time they’re euthanized is because of an extreme terminal condition… or when they’re at risk of harming other dogs or people.”

In a Facebook comment to supporters, the organization said it will keep people posted on the adoption process of the Labradors.

“We’ll make an announcement on our website and social media channels as soon as we know when these dogs will become available for adoption,” it reads.

The AHS reported over $10.7 million in contributions and grants to the federal government in 2014 and $10.1 million the prior year.