UPDATE: Complaint states Elmwood dogs fed on rotting carcasses
Dogs at an alleged Elmwood puppy mill were feasting on rotting carcasses as their primary food source, according to allegations spelled out in a criminal complaint.
Pierce County prosecutors handed down 117 criminal charges on Tuesday against Elmwood resident Stuart Earl West, 68.
He was charged in Pierce County Circuit Court with 21 counts of intentionally providing improper animal shelter space, 48 counts of intentionally providing improper animal shelter ventilation and 48 counts of intentionally failing to provide food for an animal. All 117 charges are misdemeanor offenses.
West pleaded not guilty to all charges at his initial hearing, where Pierce County District Attorney Sean Froelich requested a $48,000 signature bond -- an amount he later confirmed was symbolic of the 48 dogs removed last week from West’s property.
Pierce County Circuit Court Commissioner Jorv Gavic approved the bond amount and conditions, which prohibit West from possessing any animals. West asked if he could keep one dog on the propertyfor security.
“There will be no animals,” Gavic responded.
Members of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Animal Humane Society (AHS) seized the dogs Friday, April 22, after executing a search warrant at West’s N4758 350th St. home.
A website listed to the street address registers to the business Alma Bottom Pointing Labradors, which lists Stu West as the owner.
According to an ASPCA news release, the dogs were all yellow labradors and comprised 35 adults and 13 puppies.
A criminal complaint outlines what an investigator called “deplorable” conditions inside the house where West allegedly ran the operation.
According to the complaint:
Pierce County authorities, joined by an animal inspector from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, visited West’s home March 28 after receiving a complaint from a man who bought a dog there. The department had also received an animal-related complaint from the property March 8.
During the March 28 visit, deputies documented conditions there, a body-cam video from which revealed two dogs squeezed together in a travel kennel. Deputies reported putrid smells from the home, which the inspector called “one of the worst ‘kennels’ he has seen in five years,” the complaint states.
“The smell could best be described as a rotting de-comp(osition) smell mixed with dog hair, feces and urine,” one deputy reported.
West admitted during the visit that the dogs weren’t licensed, vaccinated or up to date with shots, telling officers that vaccinations “messes with the dogs’ hormones,” according to the complaint.
He admitted feeding the dogs dead cattle he got from a local farmer.
The visit led to a search warrant that was executed April 21 at the property.
During the search, Pierce County Sheriff’s Office investigator Collin Gilles asked West why he kept two dogs per kennel. West told him it was so the dogs could lick each other’s ears out -- an industry standard, he said -- and so it allowed the dogs to touch each other.
West told officers he fed the dogs dead cattle and deer once a day.
“While at the house, there didn’t appear to be any fresh food available, only rotting carcasses outside,” Gilles wrote in the complaint, later stating “This was supposed to be the food for the dogs.
“Nothing looked fresh enough not to have bacteria growing on it."
The complaint states that dogs led away from the property by members of the ASPCA did not appear to be in good health and were docile.
West told officers the house had no running water after it was shut off in the winter and he couldn’t afford to pay for it to be turned back on.
Most of the dead cows perished from milk fever, West told police, though he also mentioned “zoonotic issues” and the bacterial disease leptospirosis.
“He also stated the government wants him to pull DNA from his dead dogs,” Gilles reported.
West said about three dogs died each year, the remains of which he said he brought to a cemetery behind a barn on the property.
Deputies documented poor ventilation and cramped conditions of the kennels -- features West told authorities the dogs preferred.
“The dogs are den animals and they like it,” the complaint says West told officers.
A survey of the outside property revealed “carcasses everywhere,” Gilles reported, listing deer, cows, calves and dogs among the remains.
Sixteen dog carcasses were found inside the barn -- about half of which appeared “more fresh.” The dead dogs were lined up in a row, an arrangement West told officers he had performed because “they” were coming to take the dogs’ DNA in an effort to produce “a brand new dog like no one has ever seen. One dog appeared to have starved to death, Gilles reported.
Other dogs were believed to be buried under crosses on the property.
The inside of West’s home was “deplorable,” Gilles reported.
“The smell was so strong that I had to exit numerous times throughout the day to get fresh air,” he wrote.
Kennels were observed with as many as three dogs in one. Several kennels had holes chewed into them so the dogs could stick their paws or heads through the opening.
Kennels were stacked throughout the home’s main level and in the basement. An area on the porch contained stacked kennels for new puppies -- an area Gilles said “also smelled awful.”
Two ceiling fans were on, but no windows were open “so the horrible smell and air was just being pushed around in the porch.”
The house also contained several leather hand whips, which contained suspected blood and dog hair. A maul handle found near the front door appeared to have dried blood on it and apparent dog hair. Gilles reported that the devices appeared to be near locations where the dogs went in and out of the house.
The house also contained a bedroom that appeared to be home to a child. Children’s toys, games books and bedding were found there.
The room had part of its ceiling missing and a tote was found on floor to catch water that leaked in. A dead mouse was found submerged in the water-filled tote.