NORRIDGEWOCK – When Animal Control Officer Kathleen Ross first met a pit bull named Jazzi last summer, the 11-month-old dog had lost most of her hair, and her toes were “balloonlike” with swelling.

Her skin was so sensitive and cracked that when Ross touched her, the dog bled.

Unlike reports of dog bites, which increase as the weather warms, animal cruelty is a year-round problem, she said.

Some people don’t think they’ll get caught, Ross said, but they often are.

“The animal’s paying the ultimate price, and it’s just not right,” she said.

The woman who called Ross to her Mountain Stream Road house last July said Jazzi had wandered through the woods and was a stray. So Ross took her to a veterinarian for treatment.

But after a while, when the woman, Amy Crommett, showed a heightened level of concern for Jazzi, Ross began to suspect that the dog was not a stray.

The dog belonged to Crommett, who later was charged with animal cruelty and recently was found guilty of the charge after pleading no contest.

In 2010, 657 cruelty cases were reported to the Animal Welfare Program, which is part of the Maine Department of Agriculture, said Dr. Christine Fraser, a veterinarian with the program. This was down from 2009, when there were 797.

In 2010, there were 322 dog complaints, 228 horse complaints and 94 cat complaints.

The total number of animal welfare cases was much higher, however, since municipal animal control officers, sheriff’s departments and state police also handle complaints. Some of the decline from 2009 to 2010 may be attributed to the state program working more with local animal control officers, Fraser said.

She said it’s not unusual for people to report their own sick animals as strays. Sometimes it’s because family members have been out of work or ill, and the owners can’t pay to take care of the pet, Fraser said.

Ross, who works mainly for Mercer, Rome, Belgrade and Augusta, said pet owners report their own animals more than people might think.

“I’d like to think they get so over their head with the medical part of it that they realize they can’t afford to take it to a veterinarian to get it the treatment that it needs. I think they’re deceiving us to get the treatment for the animal,” Ross said.

Crommett was sentenced May 25 in Skowhegan District Court to one year in jail, with all but 48 hours suspended, and one year of probation.

She is prohibited from acquiring new animals for a year but may keep those she currently has, including three cats, another dog, snakes and rats. She must pay $2,000 restitution to the state for the benefit of the Humane Society Waterville Area. Crommett also was fined $500.

As for Jazzi, she now has a new home, and her hair has grown back, Ross said. “(Jazzi) was so sweet. Even after everything that she’d been through, she was still loving,” Ross said.