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Top 10 news stories of 2016: No. 6 Puppy mill case turned up squalor, criminal charges

Dogs removed from a Pierce County man's home earlier this year will now be avaialble for adoption. (Submitted photo courtesy of Animal Humane Society)

A five-day jury trial awaits the 68-year-old Pierce County man accused of running a puppy mill that was raided by authorities in 2016.

Stuart E. West was slapped with 125 separate charges after Pierce County sheriff's deputies and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals went to his town of El Paso home in April and found dozens of dogs in squalor-like conditions.

Authorities said the dogs — all yellow labs raised at West's home-based Alma Bottom Pointing Labradors business — were found feeding on rotting carcasses on the property. Dogs were found kenneled in urine-soaked crates and in rooms without proper ventilation, the charging document states.

West was later charged with an array of crimes alleging he intentionally provided improper shelter space, ventilation and food and mistreated the dogs.

The surviving dogs found on the property were turned over to the American Humane Society, which in July made 68 of the animals available for adoption.

The incident raised numerous questions among county and town officials about the inspection process and how West's alleged puppy mill was allowed to proliferate.

The case also led the town of El Paso to re-examine its kennel inspection process.

A Pierce County Herald review of documents revealed complaints had been lodged with the state against West's facility as far back as 2011. The facility, however, was deemed legal because the number of dogs he sold annually was less than the threshold required by the state to be considered a breeder. That meant state inspectors weren't required to inspect his kennels.

Pierce County Sheriff Nancy Hove said anonymous complaints had been filed about the facility in the past, but the anonymity prevented authorities from moving ahead. Deputies launched their investigation after the state's agriculture department received a formal complaint in March about West's facility.

A Jan. 13 motion hearing has been set in the case, which is scheduled to go to trial March 13.

West pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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