State’s handling of kennel criticized

Posted Jan. 15, 2009, at 9:19 p.m.

NEWPORT, Maine — Animal control officers are monitoring conditions at a local dog breeder’s kennel daily after trying to work with her for more than five years to upgrade her facility.

State Veterinarian Christine Fraser confirmed Wednesday that Carol Thibeault’s kennel on Old Bangor Road, where she raises Siberian huskies and standard poodles, has been under constant investigation since early 2004. She said that, while the kennel operates at a less than perfect level, nothing Thibeault is doing breaks Maine law.

Thibeault, who is in her mid-70s, could not be reached for comment Wednesday, and no one answered the door at her home Thursday afternoon.

Barbara Skapa of Standard Poodle Rescue of Maine, based in Mount Vernon, disagrees with Fraser’s assessment of the situation and maintains that the state refuses to seize the dogs because the Animal Welfare Division is out of money.

“How long does the department have to work with a kennel operator before it realizes she cannot manage the animals’ care?” Skapa asked.

Because of a large number of massive dog seizures statewide in 2008 and the resultant cost of care for the hundreds of animals seized, the department is $600,000 in the red, according to state records.

Skapa criticized Thibeault’s operation and said that if the state won’t act, she will begin picketing the facility with other reputable breeders to draw attention to the issue.

In fall 2004, after working with the breeder for more than six months, 50 dogs were removed from the business because of parasite problems.

At the time, Animal Welfare Director Norma Worley said the action was not a matter of enforcement but rather a voluntary surrender by the owner. The state also reached an agreement with Thibeault to remove another 15 dogs in early 2008 because officials felt she had too many to take care of.

Skapa has worked closely over the last few years with the Animal Welfare Division at the Newport kennel and has personally placed poodles from Thibeault’s facility in new homes.

“They are kept all year around, day and night in chain-link fencing exposed to all the elements,” she said.

Skapa is particularly concerned this week because of the extraordinarily cold weather.

Fraser, however, said the dogs that are outside at Thibeault’s are huskies, cold-weather dogs, and the poodles have access to an unheated mudroom. She said Maine, unlike other states such as New York, has no law that would restrict dogs of any breed from being outside continuously. Fraser said this is mainly to accommodate sled dog breeders and sled dog racers.

Fraser also said that the department’s financial woes have nothing to do with Thibeault’s operation not being shut down.

“If she passed the threshold and violated any Maine law, we would absolutely seize the dogs,” the state veterinarian said. “At this point, however, all we can do is wait and watch.”

There are now 14 adult dogs and three puppies at the Newport facility. Fraser and two other state animal welfare agents were at the kennel for an inspection last Friday and will return today. Fraser said there are definitely issues, particularly with keeping water fresh and unfrozen, at the kennel.

“The care and shelter requirements are being met,” she said. “We are working very closely with the local animal control officer who is also a police officer. He will be checking the kennel on a daily basis.”

Fraser said she is seeking documentation from anyone else who has visited the kennel.

“We’ve tried to keep her numbers down,” Fraser said.

Skapa said the state is failing to protect the animals now at the kennel and should not have worked with the owner for such a long time.

“Animal Welfare wants the breeder to come into at least minimal compliance in order not to have to prosecute or rescue her dogs, thus the insistence to provide water — a legally binding regulation. Anyone who cares about dogs would not allow a dog to suffer Maine’s winter weather at night,” Skapa said.

bdnpittsfield@verizon.net

487-3187

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