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Town plans to tighten dog kennel ordinance

Stuart West

TOWN OF EL PASO -- The town of El Paso is considering banning commercial dog kennels, a step town officials say is necessary after a local man was arrested on animal mistreatment charges and was discovered to be taking advantage of loopholes in animal welfare checks.

Town Chair Ron Kannel said El Paso officials “have to do what's best for us” by restricting dog kennels with more than 10 canines, tightening an ordinance from 1995 which requires a person or group to register as a commercial kennel if they breed, train, groom or sell the animals.

Registered private kennels -- housing between five and 10 dogs -- are expected to still be allowed when the board meets June 13.

Kannel said although current policy is “a good ordinance,” some things needed to be changed “after that situation with Stu West.”

Stuart E. West, 68, owner of Alma Bottom Pointing Labradors is facing 117 misdemeanor charges in Pierce County Circuit Court after authorities discovered 48 yellow Labradors in dog crates stacked two- and three-high, some with multiple animals inside, surrounded by dripping urine, feces and rotting animal carcasses as food.

In recent weeks, the Herald has uncovered how West managed to dodge authorities for years – and how state, county and local officials either didn't follow through with complaints against the dog breeder or were prevented from acting because of relaxed policies, even when they were aware of his questionable practices.

While the County Code puts the onus on municipalities to handle animal welfare, unincorporated El Paso, which doesn't have a humane officer, still recognizes the now-defunct Humane Society of Pierce-St. Croix County as its animal control authority in its ordinance. The County Board of Supervisors in 2005 voted to disassociate itself with the Humane Society and cut funding to the nonprofit, leaving the area without a trained regional animal control facility or officers.

El Paso has relied on the Pierce County Sheriff's Department and its limited staff to enforce animal-related complaints. The Herald found that both the sheriff's department and state officials knew about West's alleged animal mistreatment for years before taking action April 22.

Town officials, hoping to curb the potential for future animal mistreatment, aren't alone in reconsidering policies, either.

A few days before humane officers and law enforcement descended on the Elmwood facility, the Pierce County Land Management office sent a letter to West, telling him they were fed up with his actions.

Officials were going to take action if West didn’t shape up and start following stipulations outlined in his dog kennel conditional-use permit. After months and years of skimming by, West was provided with an ultimatum.

But then Pierce County deputies, members of the ASPCA and Golden Valley, Minn.-based American Humane Society intervened, executing a search on West’s property. They recovered 13 puppies and 35 grown dogs, including one pregnant female who would later give birth to a litter of five.

Following the news, Pierce County Land Management Director Andy Pichotta said his department “is reviewing the zoning ordinance as well as the policies and procedures associated with conditionally permitted uses to determine whether additions or changes are necessary.”

County Board Supervisor Jeff Holst agreed with Pichotta, telling the Herald future conditional-use permits would be treated in a similar fashion: “on an individual basis.”

Still, some questions persist and might remain unanswered even after prosecutors try their case against West, or in a separate lawsuit where the county is seeking funds related to the raid and legal ownership of the animals.