LAGRANGE — Animal welfare advocates, including those in cities like Indianapolis and Chicago, are expected to voice their opposition next week to a plan to start a large dog breeding operation near LaGrange.
The controversy arose from Lavern Whetstone’s zoning request, which calls for a commercial breeding facility that would house 100 female dogs near her family’s home. The LaGrange County Zoning Appeals Board is scheduled to address the issue at its meeting on Tuesday.
Opponent Lisa Fletter of DeKalb County questions Whestone’s ability to care for the welfare of so many dogs and their puppies, as well as the ability of government agencies to properly enforce regulations for such an operation.
“How can you reasonably care for 100 women,” Flitter asked.
Through his Facebook group, Indiana Humane Advocates, Fletter started a petition on Change.org, seeking to urge the zoning board to deny Whetstone’s request. The petition had nearly 850 signatures around 4:45 p.m. Thursday, according to the site.
She said she recently heard about the zoning request through a member of her group earlier this month, and the issue has since grown to include people in LaGrange County and towns outside the county. wishing to denounce the proposal.
“That’s how important it is that we stop the number of dogs that are being produced,” Flitter said.
She indicated that 100 dogs is a lot for a breeding company. The number increases, as she pointed out, taking into account the number of stallions on site to mate with the females and the number of pups they would give birth to at one time. She wondered if Whetstone could adequately care for the dogs, not only meeting basic needs, but also considering their overall well-being.
By comparison, Fletter said the breeders she works with operate on much smaller scales.
“They can have three or four breeding females. Three or four,” Flitter said.
Robbie Miller, LaGrange County’s planning and zoning administrator, also said 100 dogs are on the high end. She estimated that commercial breeders usually have between 30 and 50 dogs.
The Goshen News has contacted Whetstone to comment on its plans. He did not return a message left for him before this story was published.
Whetstone is seeking a land use waiver to allow the facility, under the trade name Outback Canine, on a vacant parcel of farmland east of 2275 E. 150 North, Miller said.
The process began after Whetstone attempted to go the original route for such requests by asking neighbors to approve the project. The county requires petitioners to notify all persons within 500 feet of the property of their plans. If the petitioners can get unanimous support from neighbors, they can go ahead with their project, Miller explained. One of Whetstone’s neighbors hasn’t given his approval, so he’s appealing to the board for a waiver.
Miller said commercial breeders must also be certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as the Indiana Animal Health Council if certain conditions apply.
USDA regulations require breeders to certify with the agency if they have more than four breeding females and if they are selling animals to buyers without face-to-face interactions. Breeders who have more than 20 unmodified breeding females or who sell at least 500 dogs per year must also register with the state.
Whetstone is accredited by both agencies.
Documents show he has an active breeder’s license, as La Grange Enterprises, through the USDA. He is also listed as having an active registration through BOAH and capable of maintaining 50 to 100 dogs in LaGrange County, agency staff said. Miller noted that Whetstone is permitted to have 50 dogs on property at 2995 E. 150 North, near the site of the proposed new facility.
BOAH spokeswoman Denise Derrer said Whetstone had not filed any complaints against him or been investigated by the agency since he closed a facility in Goshen and moved to LaGrange in New York. 2011.
Fletter described regulators as limited in monitoring livestock facilities and enforcing rules. She said the USDA basically requires breeders to meet minimum basic needs, such as food, water and enclosures that are at least six inches larger than each dog. Dog crates can also have mesh bottoms.
She said government certificates for breeders mean little without stronger enforcement capabilities.
“All these certificates are beautiful, but they don’t have any backbone,” Fletter said.
Derrer acknowledged that BOAH State is limited in monitoring livestock facilities.
“We don’t do regular inspections. It’s only complaint-driven,” Derrer said.
Fletter said she started her Indiana Humane Advocate group on Facebook in May to seek stronger laws to protect animals and people.
“This page was not started to shut down a puppy mill. It was started for the laws,” she said.
For Tuesday’s meeting, Flitter said she was working to find solutions for people to attend in a safe manner in the interest of social distancing and preventing the potential spread of COVID-19.