June 18, 2018
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Animal abuse and neglect still a problem in Maine

By Alex Barber, BDN Staff

FARMINGTON, Maine — All 75 dogs seized from a Wilton home last month are doing well and the Franklin County Animal Shelter is accepting applications for adoption, according to director Heidi Jordan.

The mostly small-breed dogs were taken from the home of Nancy Champagne on March 14 after it was discovered that some of the dogs were sick and in unsanitary conditions. Also seized were 24 birds, including three chickens.

“Some [dogs] have fewer issues than others,” Jordan said on Friday. “Some were more routine issues like parasites, but some are more extreme like cardiac issues or seizure issues. It’s really been the full gamut [of issues] and full gamut of ages.”

Some puppies haven’t yet reached 56 days old, which is the earliest a puppy can be adopted by law, while others would be considered senior citizens, she said.

Donations of food, bedding and other necessities have flooded the shelter since the dogs were taken in.

Maine Director of Animal Welfare for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Liam Hughes said the investigation is ongoing.

Jordan said the shelter is accepting applications through email for the dogs, which include breeds of pugs, Pomeranians, dachshunds, Japanese chins, Pekingese and Shih Tzus.

The abundance of pets at the Farmington shelter highlights a bigger issue across the state — neglect, abuse and abandonment of pets.

“My sense is we’re still seeing the effects of the economy,” Jordan said. “We had a guy come in and was in tears because he lost his job, he was being foreclosed upon and now has to give up his dog because he was getting kicked out of his home.”

Somerset Humane Society in Skowhegan Director Hattie Spaulding said she’s still seeing people giving up on their pets.

“We’re seeing a lot of animals just thrown away. People don’t want them anymore,” Spaulding said. “They come here and drop them off to us. We ask them to be put on a waiting list because we’re already full. Then they threaten us by saying ‘It’s not our problem,’ and then slam the animal cage and walk out. Or they threaten to take the animal home and shoot it. It’s something we don’t want. We don’t want them shot or dumped on the side of the road.”

Some owners can’t devote the time or money for pets. However, Spaulding said it doesn’t take much of either to take care of animal.

“Food, water and shelter is all you need,” said Spaulding. “Buy a hair brush or comb and groom them. Give them food, water, litter if it’s inside and keep them up to date on their shots.”

Jordan said a grant has enabled the Farmington shelter to offer neutering and spaying of cats $19 and $35, respectively, which also includes a rabies vaccine.

Hughes said Maine has the second-best laws in the country for animal welfare. Statewide last year, 67 percent of dogs and cats were adopted from animal shelters, 10 percent were reclaimed by their owners, while 18 percent were euthanized, a decrease from 2011’s euthanization rate of 27 percent.

Because there is no national organization that tracks adoption rates, Hughes said he estimates the nationwide adoption rate is about 50 to 60 percent.

Karen Stimpson, president of the Maine Federation of Humane Societies and executive director of the Coastal Humane Society in Brunswick, said animal abuse in her area is unusual.

“Gratefully, we don’t have to deal with much of it. What we do see, sadly, is people who lose their cats or their cats wander off. We can’t seem to reunite them with their original owner.”

Hughes said it’s a common problem. Last year, only 2 percent of lost cats were reclaimed by their owners. This year, it’s up to 3 percent.

“People tend to assume that a cat’s a cat and it can fend for itself and don’t go about looking for it,” Hughes said. “[The cat is] so used to being fed and sheltered that it can’t fend for itself. [Because of cars, predators and people], the life expectancy drops. The average lifespan of an outdoor cat is two to three years whereas an indoor cat is 20.”

Hughes said a lot of animal abuse cases are not reported to his office, but said “animal neglect and abuse is still out there.”

Spaulding said the worst case of animal abuse she had seen in quite some time took place in December, when an abandoned poodle was found in such poor shape that it had to be put down.

Paul and Christina Laudieri, both 44, of Clinton, were charged with cruelty to animals, a Class D misdemeanor. They both pleaded not guilty to the charge and last month, they were allowed to have their cases transferred to a jury.

When a case of animal abuse or neglect occurs, Stimpson said, it’s best to keep to focus on the animal and let law enforcement handle the investigation.

“The animal control officer knows the story and the state will prosecute. We as a shelter tend to look forward,” said Stimpson. “Four years ago, we had a cocker spaniel locked in a basement. It was tossed food and water everyday, but it’s nails grew so long and was matted in feces and urine. It was placed outside during a snowstorm when a neighbor noticed and alerted an animal control officer.

“When the dog was brought in, it looked like an old shag rug had washed up on a beach. It was nearly dead. It was shocking,” she said. “Our vet went to work on this dog. It was a miracle. We brought it back. He was in our arms for months and we matched him up with a man and wife who take in old dying dogs. He came back up to life. He was like a puppy.”

Stimpson said humane societies and animal shelters can give advice to those who have questions or concerns about their pets.

Those interesting in applying to adopt a dog from the Franklin County Animal Shelter should send an email to: franklincountyanimalshelter@gmail.com, where a representative will reply with an adoption application.

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