Watch: Trial underway in Pierce County puppy mill case
A rural Elmwood man might have used unconventional means to raise dogs, but it didn't amount to the dozens of crimes he's charged with, his attorney argued Monday in court.
Stuart Earl West had research that backed up the diet of deer and cattle carcasses he fed the yellow labrador dogs he bred and sold, defense attorney Keith Belzer said during the first day of testimony in West's trial.
"For the adult dogs, it was a raw-meat diet," Belzer told the Pierce County jury on Day 1 of testimony in West's trial. The town of El Paso man faces 125 misdemeanor charges related to his Alma Bottom Pointing Labs facility. The charges allege West intentionally failed to provide food, ventilation and shelter to the animals found on his property in April 2016. He's also charged with multiple counts of animal mistreatment.
Pierce County District Attorney Sean Froelich countered that West's methods weren't just unusual — they were criminal. Pierce County deputies, joined by members of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Humane Society, executed a search warrant April 22, 2016, at West's property after a prospective dog buyer called in a complaint following a visit to the facility.
"He was concerned about what he saw and smelled," Froelich said "The conditions were awful."
That man, Jim Naylor, along with sheriff's deputies, testified to an overwhelming stench that greeted them when they went to the property, where West had converted a farmhouse into a kennel.
"It was nauseating to us to see dogs kept in that condition," Naylor testified Monday.
The dogs found in the alleged squalor were found afflicted with a host of ailments, the prosecutor said. Froelich tallied off a list of maladies, including Lyme disease, anemia, hookworms, dental disease, ulcers, ear infections, muscle wasting and eye trauma that veterinarians documented.
"All 48 labradors had medical conditions," Froelich told the jury.
More than a dozen dogs were found dead on the property, Pierce County sheriff's investigator Collin Gilles testified.
He said the odor took authorities' breath away when they entered West's house.
"It was awful," Gilles testified. "I honestly would compare it to early stages of a decomposing body."
But the 69-year-old West was a dog lover who was breeding highly developed labradors that were being sought by the federal government for their ability to sniff bombs, jurors heard.
Belzer described to the jury how West developed an interest in dog breeding as a youngster growing up in Rochester, Minn., after watching his grandfather raise dogs. Part of that approach meant feeding dogs raw meat, he told the jury.
As he progressed in his research and practice after taking it on full-time in 1996, West began implementing a BARF — biologically approved raw food — diet, his attorney explained.
"It's controversial," Belzer admitted. "There are many veterinarians who don't agree with that diet."
He said West believed the diet wasn't just healthier, but one that led to better fertility in the dogs. And while it was true that West's house didn't have running water — hampered by burst pipes, Belzer said — it didn't mean the dogs went without. He said West provided water to the dogs.
Gilles said West told him the United States military and the government wanted his dogs for "special purposes" due to their unique breeding.
Jurors also heard from an ASPCA veterinarian who testified to the conditions the dogs were found in. Some were found packed three to a crate, she said.
The jury was later taken outside, where they were shown some of the seized crates being held on a sheriff's trailer outside the courthouse.
Testimony was expected to last to at least Wednesday. Belzer said he expects West to testify in his own defense.