MACHIAS, Maine — Three sheep and a kitten seized earlier this month from a Whiting farmer are now permanently owned by the state of Maine after a judge ruled they were emaciated and deprived of food, water and proper medical care.
“These sheep were essentially starving to death,” Judge John V. Romei ruled in Machias District Court on Wednesday. “The evidence is overwhelming that these animals were cruelly treated.” He ruled that the kitten, which was suffering from anemia, worms and fleas, also was deprived of medical care.
Testimony in the hearing, which lasted much of the day, revealed that neighbors, other animal experts, the local animal welfare agent, the state veterinarian and a local veterinarian all felt that the sheep had no access to fresh water, were deprived of shelter on sweltering days, had not been shorn in over a year and had overgrazed the small pasture they were kept in.
Don Bliss, who owned the three sheep, testified that they were Jacob sheep and that their thin bodies were typical of that breed.
State Veterinarian Christine Fraser of the Animal Welfare Division, however, said that the sheep were not Jacob sheep but a mixed breed and that their thinness went far beyond any breed standard.
She testified that she applied a body condition scale used for all breeds of animals that assesses the amount of body fat versus muscle. The scale runs from 1 to 3, with three being ideal.
She rated two of the sheep seized as 1’s, and one as a 11/2 .
“They were essentially skin over bone,” she said. Not only were the sheep emaciated, but their wool had become matted with feces, she said. At one point, she referred to foot-long “feces dreadlocks” on the animals’ rumps.
Chrissy Perry, the local animal humane agent, testified that she had visited the farm repeatedly after getting complaints about the animals’ conditions.
The area the sheep grazed in was described as a one-quarter of an acre fenced pasture with a shelter and watering tub.
Perry said she tried to help Bliss understand what he needed to do to care for the animals and that she left him both fresh hay and grain for the sheep.
Bliss, however, testified that the animals were in good shape and that because they were getting all their protein from the grass, the grain Perry had him feed the sheep made them ill. He said one ewe died.
Bliss said he had been farming for 40 years and was very familiar with animal husbandry.
He said the kitten was a stray that was 6 weeks old and that he was aware it needed to be treated for fleas and worms but that the products he purchased for that purpose said not to use them on kittens less than 12 weeks old.
In making his ruling in the possession hearing, Judge Romei said that he was particularly distressed that “a humane agent came to your home at least three times to help and nothing changed.”
First District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh said Bliss has been summoned for cruelty to animals, but he has not determined whether those charges will be civil or criminal in nature. That case will be heard in Machias District Court in January.
Bliss did not comment as he left the courtroom.