EASTPORT, Maine — The head of Maine’s Animal Welfare Division has sent a letter to local councilors accusing City Manager Jon Southern of threatening to leave more than a dozen cats to die in the home where they were found abandoned or let them loose in the street.
“Mr. Southern’s statement is not only unacceptable but implies that he would knowingly commit a criminal act (abandonment) and that he has no compassion for animals who found themselves in a terrible situation through no fault of their own,” Norma J. Worley wrote to Eastport councilors in a letter dated Jan. 19.
Southern on Monday denied the allegations, telling the BDN that Worley miscategorized his actions and never talked to him personally. He called the letter to city councilors “slanderous and libelous” and said, “I’m thinking of suing Norma Worley personally.”
Southern said the problem began in December when he learned that the owner of a home on Third Street that the city was foreclosing on had been hospitalized.
Southern said he visited the home and discovered more than 15 animals — one 10-year-old pit bull and more than a dozen cats and kittens.
“If you saw the house, you would leave crying,” Southern said. “The conditions were horrific.” He said the animals hadn’t had nourishment in so long that the pit bull had started eating some of the kittens out of desperation.
Thinking the owner would eventually return from the hospital, Southern said he personally went to the home every day for weeks to feed and water the animals.
However, after learning from the homeowner’s lawyer earlier this month that the homeowner had been placed in a long-term care facility and would not return to Eastport, Southern said he called the state Department of Agriculture’s Animal Welfare Division for help.
On Jan. 11, Animal Welfare Agent Chrissy Perry, who is based in Washington County, went to the home with a local police officer for an inspection. She slipped and fell on icy stairs and broke her hand, however, and did not complete the inspection. Perry would not comment about the case when contacted by the BDN on Monday.
Worley said that other animal welfare agents later visited the home and that all of the animals were eventually removed; the cats are at PAWS in Calais, and the dog is at the municipal pound at the town of Perry.
In her letter to the city council, Worley said that before the animals were removed, Southern and Perry had a telephone conversation that got heated, and that Southern told the agent that Eastport had no budget to care for the animals. In the letter, Worley said Southern told Perry, “The cats would be left in the house to die or let into the street so someone else could care for them.”
Southern denies making the statement.
“That is a lie,” he said Monday. “Our conversation was very amicable. I asked them for help and rather than give me advice — Norma Worley has never called me, not once — I am slandered.”
Southern said several councilors were in his office when Perry told him, “It’s not my job to deal with neglected animals. It’s the city’s job.”
Southern said Perry used to work for him at a Machias call center and that their relationship is strained. He said that after she fell and was hurt, “she was angry and was looking for a victim.” He said she did not relate the truth in her report to Worley.
He called the allegations “ridiculous … Legally, I could have shot every one of those animals. Instead, I was feeding them and then asked the Animal Welfare Division for help. That is what they are there for and this department needs to step up and do its job.”
Worley said Monday that she “has full confidence in what Chrissy Perry told me.”
Attempts were made to contact Worley again on Tuesday and Wednesday to obtain a copy of Perry’s report of the incident. Worley did not return any phone messages or e-mail requests for the information.
In her Jan. 19 letter to councilors, Worley said it was unusual for a town not to have a secure agreement with an animal shelter. She urged the council to enter into an agreement with a shelter and to hire a certified animal control officer. She also wrote that the city needs to reimburse the state for the care and treatment of the rescued animals. She did not offer any estimates for that cost.
Eastport council Chairman Robert Peacock said Monday that he had not yet read the letter, and would not comment on it until all the councilors had a chance to see it and discuss it at their next meeting on Feb. 9.
Southern said he was unaware that the city required a formal agreement with an animal shelter, but was disappointed that Worley didn’t help him with that. He is in his first year as a town manager.
“She is supposed to be there to give me advice,” he said. “This wasn’t a dog at large case. This was a whole house full of animals. Who is more appropriate to help the city than this department? Shame on me for thinking that, because now I have been slandered in the process.”
It is unclear who from the Animal Welfare Division will take up the issue of seeking reimbursement from the city because Worley said she is retiring on Friday, Jan. 28.
Worley said she will be teaching at the National Animal Cruelty Investigations School of the University of Missouri. She said she will continue to reside in Maine but will crisscross the country, leading animal abuse seminars for NACIS. She also said she is currently writing a book on animal abuse. She said she is unsure who her replacement at the Animal Welfare Division will be or if her position will even be filled.
“Because of the new administration, it is all up in the air,” she said.