NEWPORT, Maine — When Penobscot County Sheriff’s Deputy Garrit McKee went to the Carmel home of Jason A. Tompkins in September 2011, he reportedly found a small black and white border collie lying on the kitchen floor, unable to move.
“He had lost his temper with his dog, Mouse, because it urinated on the floor,” the deputy wrote in his report. “He advised he picked the dog up and threw it against the floor.”
The dog suffered a concussion and hemorrhaging of the spinal cord, according to a veterinary report done by Dr. Alan Potthoff, a neurology specialist at the Maine Veterinary Referral Center in Scarborough.
McKee charged Tompkins with animal cruelty, but a mix-up in paperwork has delayed the legal process by nearly a year. Tompkins was in Newport District Court on Wednesday and entered a plea of not guilty before Judge Evert Fowle, who continued Tompkins’ unsecured $1,500 bond and ordered he have no contact with any domestic animals, including the cat that lives at his mother’s house.
The judge also assigned Dale Thistle of Newport as Tompkins’ attorney and scheduled a trial for May 15.
The dog, who has been adopted by Penobscot County courthouse maintenance director Tom Duffy and renamed Mickey, sat in a vehicle outside of the courthouse oblivious to the court action going on inside against his former owner, who now lives in Bangor.
“He cannot move his body but with encouragement did voluntarily move and kick with the left rear limb,” the vet said in his report about Mickey’s injuries.
The dog could not stand on his own and Potthoff wrote that, “if 5-7 days goes by with no significant improvement, it’s unlikely he will ever walk again.”
The dog was removed from Tompkins’ house by a Carmel town employee and taken to the Penobscot Veterinary Clinic in Bangor. Assistant District Attorney Susan Pope, who has three dogs, including one who is blind, then took the dog in and she and her husband nursed him back from the brink of death, Duffy said.
“He couldn’t even pick his head up,” the dog’s new owner said. “The vet said if he didn’t respond in seven days he was a goner. He started [responding] at 11 or 12 days.”
After the injury, “he dragged himself around by his chin … because he couldn’t walk,” he said.
To get Mickey back up and walking, Pope and her husband built a device that could suspend the dog and then they both took turns touching his feet to stimulate them, Duffy said.
“She did an amazing job to get him on his feet,” he said. “That homemade rig-sling was just high enough to work his legs. She is the one I credit with saving his life.”
Assistant District Attorney Jim Aucoin also lent a hand, Pope said about a year ago. She was at Tompkins’ Newport court hearing Wednesday morning and was in court that afternoon. Messages left for her were not immediately returned.
Duffy said he has never asked but he’s pretty sure that Pope did a background check on him before she allowed him to take the injured dog home in the fall of 2011.
He said he was leaving the courthouse one day and saw Pope walking into the building with the dog — who had to use the wheelchair ramp to get inside the courthouse — and his heart just melted. He turned and followed the two inside.
“Everyone came out and was looking at him,” Duffy recalled. “She said she had three dogs and wasn’t able to take care of the dog, who needed a lot of attention. I said I’d take him.”
Mickey went through 20 sessions each of physical therapy and massage therapy at Veazie Veterinary Clinic over the last year, which cost in excess of $2,250, and nowadays can get around and go up stairs. But he still has a very visible limp.
“He was determined. He had this look on his face [saying], ‘I’m going to do this,’” Duffy said of his dog, who spends his days living on a pond in Otis. “This dog was literally lifeless, and now he catches tennis balls. He chases them down and scoops them up. It’s amazing.”
Mickey keeps improving, and just a few months ago started to bark for the first time. Duffy said he barks when he gets home after work and almost everytime he hears the name Susie Pope.
Even after the injury, Mickey isn’t afraid of people. In fact, there are now dog treats sitting on most of the desks inside the courthouse, just in case he comes to visit, Duffy said.
“You would think he would shy away from people, but this dog loves people,” he said. “He loves other dogs. He loves everybody. I think when somebody has a near-death experience it changes their life. I think it’s the same with Mickey. He’s just a happy dog.”
Tompkins faces up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000 if convicted of the Class D misdemeanor.