PEORIA COUNTY, Ill. (WMBD) — One of the suspects, Lester ” Spike” Hoots reached out to WMBD wanting to share his side of the story.

According to Lester Hoots, he claims he was rescuing the dogs from what he calls a dire situation and says the dogs were left without food or water.

“They were locked in a basement with a plywood wall, with a bar across it,” Hoots said. “There were four puppies and a mother, all in bad shape. They were in there for days.”

Hoots also said he had no intention of selling the animals for any money and claims he has no knowledge of the animals being sold.

“I wasn’t selling these animals, it wasn’t for a profit,” Hoots said. “I gave them to people that was going take care of them and then I had to go get them back.”

Hoots claims the dogs’ owner, Nate Bartell runs a puppy mill and starved the dogs–Nate Bartell denied these claims to WMBD reporters and said the mother dog will be getting spayed after this litter. Spike Hoots also said he didn’t kick in the front door, but went in through an unlocked back door.

As for Hoots, he said he will be going to the Peoria County Jail on Monday to talk to Sheriff’s deputies about the incident.

PEORIA COUNTY- Four malamute puppies who were reported stolen from a home on Lancaster Road in Peoria County this week have all been returned safely to their owner.

A report from the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office says the owner, Nathaniel Bartell, says he took his son to school Monday and when he arrived home the door had been busted open and the four puppies were gone. Bartell’s neighbor encouraged him to contact authorities Thursday. The report indicates the same neighbor had a construction crew from Big Guns Construction working on his residence.

“They had been working on the building behind my house for roughly a week, back and forth from what my neighbors told me,” Bartell said. “They had actually tried breaking in another time, but believed someone was in the house when that happened so they left.”

Bartell indicated now that the puppies were gone he would probably give away the older dogs. A member of the crew, 37-year-old Brian Miller, offered to take them. Bartell claims the suspects sold a dog to another man.

“They did sell them for beer money and whatever, relatively cheap because these are not cheap dogs,” Bartell said.

Deputies say later Bartell posted on Facebook the puppies were missing. He was contacted by a man who claimed it was members of that construction crew who stole the dogs. He claimed he was told about the puppies for sale by a crew member. The informant said he did not know they were stolen and helped get one of the puppies to a new owner.

Saturday afternoon, Bartell and the man who was given a stolen puppy reunited all four dogs with their mother. Bartell said he was glad someone did the right thing.

“It’s unbelievable, I never thought this outcome was going to happen,” Bartell said.

Peoria County deputies were at Bartell’s home when Brian Miller came to take the older dogs. The report indicates he did not tell them much but did contact his co-worker, 37-year-old Robert Rook of Farmington, who was the person who allegedly sold the puppy earlier. Another person officers interviewed then told them Rook and Miller planned to liberate the puppies from Bartell’s home. Rook reportedly admitted he, Miller, Kenny Harbuckle, and Lester Hoots all went to the home and stole the puppies. He also said the other three were at a house in Canton where Miller, Harbuckle, and Hoots live.

Rook has been taken into custody and the other three are all considered suspects in the case.

Peoria County Sheriff Brian Asbell says the three puppies ended up being found safely at a home in Mapelton after an anonymous tip. The person who bought the other puppy returned it as well.

Rook is free on bond and was preliminarily charged with residential burglary. Deputies are in the process of talking to the other three suspects.

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