LAGRANGE – A large protest by about 40 animal rights activists outside the LaGrange County office building has failed to derail a request by two men for a land use waiver they need to build a new commercial dog breeding facility outside of LaGrange.
The group, chanting “No more puppy mills,” hoped to convince members of the county’s zoning appeals board to deny a claim by cousins LaVern and Ezra Whetstone for variance on a 59-acre property located east of 2275 ECR 150N. The couple recently purchased land to build two new homes and a commercial dog farm. They were accompanied at the public hearing by their wives and their attorney, Steve Clouse of Albion.
The Whetstones are partners in Outback Canine, LLC, a commercial dog breeding company. They breed and breed French and English Bulldogs, as well as Boston Terriers and Poodles.
LaVern Whetstone currently operates a facility outside of LaGrange that is USDA and state licensed to hold 75 breeding females. Ezra Whetstone currently lives just outside the city of Rome, where he has a licensed facility for 40 breeding dogs. The couple say they are combining their resources by building two new homes and a livestock facility on the land they bought last year. Together they have been breeding dogs and selling puppies for over 15 years.
Clouse began his remarks to the board by saying that his clients were not puppy mill breeders, but animal welfare advocates.
“They are against puppy mills,” he said. “This is not a new breeding facility in the area. These gentlemen are already commercial dog breeders.
Clouse described Whetstone’s plan to build two new homes, two kennels and the breeding facility as a half-million dollar investment in the community.
He was quick to point out that both Whetstones are licensed by the USDA as well as the State of Indiana, are members in good standing of the Indiana Council on Animal Welfare, and are voluntary members. from Purdue University’s canine care program. Clouse said Whetstone’s facilities often exceed breeder standards and called their business ethics “impeccable” as well as the “gold standard” of the industry.
“Not at all what you see on TV when they talk about puppy mills,” he said. “These men do it well.”
LaGrange’s veterinarian Krystle King also appeared on behalf of the Whetstones, who said she helps rehome the Whetstones’ dogs when their breeding career comes to an end.
Clouse said the reason for the new business plan is so that each man can help the other.
“All they want is to combine their efforts to make it even better,” he added.
Clouse also said the homes and livestock facility will be located in the middle of the property, saying this will mitigate any impact the facility may have had on neighboring properties.
But many of their neighbors didn’t see it that way.
Gary Litke, who said his ownership clashed with Whetstones land, hired LaGrange’s attorney, Larry Helmer, to appear before the board and oppose the proposal.
“We object to the board granting the waiver,” Helmer said as he began his remarks.
Helmer said his client believes that adding 100 dogs to a confined area not only creates cruelty to dogs, but also because the barking and litter generated is detrimental to public health and general well-being. from the community.
“My client is concerned about the effect this will have on his future health, as well as the health of his neighbours,” he said.
Helmer has repeatedly referred to the proposed breeding facility as a puppy mill. He then presented documents created by a national animal rights organization that suggest LaGrange and Elkhart counties now lead the country in the number of dog breeding operations that it classifies as puppy mills.
None of the protesters were allowed to participate in the public hearing. LaGrange County Sheriff Jeff Campos, who had several officers on hand, said that due to the coronavirus pandemic and in order to maintain social distancing, only relevant parties were allowed in the meeting room.
The board ultimately approved Whetstone’s request.
Lisa Fletter, who runs the Indiana Humane Advocates Facebook page and is helping organize the protest outside the building, said she never thought protesters could prevent the waiver from being granted. Instead, she said, she hoped it would help raise awareness of the extent of the puppy mill problem in LaGrange County.
Fletter said she was frustrated that none of the protesters were allowed to speak to the board.
Fletter said his ultimate goal is to change Indiana’s dog breeding laws so they are fair to dog and breeder and ultimately enforceable.
She pointed to a recent incident at a horse farm in Howe, where many animals were seized, as evidence of the extent of the problem in LaGrange County and the limitation of animal welfare laws in this regard. moment.
“They’ve had five years of complaints on this property,” she said. “It took the animal people finally putting enough pressure on the authorities to get something done about it.”