MACHIAS — A Topsfield woman who was convicted in September of cruelty to animals has been sentenced to five years in jail with all but 10 days suspended, and must pay $13,000 in restitution to the state of Maine.
Margot Kathleen Nickerson-Malpher, 71, who represented herself, is appealing the ruling, however, and remains free on bail, First Assistant District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh said Friday.
The restitution represents less than half the actual cost of caring for the 20 dogs and a cat that were seized from her home more than four years ago, according to state officials.
After the animals were seized in October 2006, Nickerson-Malpher filed a $100 million lawsuit against the governor of Maine and a number of other state and local officials, claiming the state stole her dogs. The case wound its way through the court system and appeals process until the Maine Supreme Judicial Court determined in February 2008 that the state had the right to seize the animals.
Until that ruling, Cavanaugh said, the state had been caring for the dogs and cat, including providing shelter and medical attention. The animals all have since been adopted.
The ruling also paved the way for the state to continue court action against Nickerson-Malpher.
In a two-day trial in September, Nickerson-Malpher was found guilty of cruelty to animals after a Washington County jury deliberated less than 10 minutes.
It reportedly took five groomers at the Bangor Humane Society two days to clean the dogs after they were seized. The dogs included black miniature poodles, two Cavalier King Charles spaniel-poodle mixed breeds, one Cavalier King Charles spaniel and one white standard poodle.
The groomers described the dogs’ hair as being so matted that their coats impeded their ability to move and their ability to relieve themselves, according to court records.
Cavanaugh said Justice Kevin Cuddy took Nickerson-Malpher’s financial status into account while reviewing the Maine Department of Agriculture’s expenses of $26,529.25 related to the seized animals, and before setting the restitution at $13,000.
During the sentencing in November, Cuddy also ordered probation for one year and assessed a $250 fine.
Cuddy also limited Nickerson-Malpher to owning only two nonbreeding dogs unless she proves to the court that she is capable of handling more animals, Cavanaugh said.
“The state is confident the Law Court will uphold this verdict and Ms. Malpher will eventually serve her jail time and probation period,” Cavanaugh said Friday. “We hope to recover the court-ordered restitution and reduce the burden on all Maine taxpayers.”
Nickerson-Malpher was unable to be reached Friday to comment on her sentence.
The group Responsible Animal Owners of Maine, which lobbies for animal owners’ rights, at one time supported Nickerson-Malpher in her attempt to regain her dogs, and some of the organization’s members attended the trial.
After the jury verdict in September, however, the group posted the following statement on its website at www.rao-of-me.com: “Due to what (in our opinion) we believe to be misinformation, half truths, innuendo, and blatant outright lies on the part of Margot Malpher, we withdrew our support of her plight and after seeing the evidence video and photos at her jury trial we can no longer allow Ms. Malpher to use our site to try and find her dogs.
“We do not condone abuse or neglect of animals or the abuse of people or power. It is our opinion the animal welfare program did the right thing in getting the dogs out of that situation and we commend them for that.”
In addition, the American Kennel Club’s Management Disciplinary Committee suspended Nickerson-Malpher from all AKC privileges for 10 years and imposed a $2,000 fine for conduct prejudicial to purebred dogs.