SOUTH PORTLAND — A former state legislator is being criticized online by animal-rights activists for keeping pets in his house even though it was condemned by the city.

South Portland’s code enforcement division condemned Christopher Muse’s house at 35 Mildred St. because it is not connected to the sewer system. Muse is not allowed to live there, and the doors to the house are locked, although Muse is permitted to visit the property to work on it, said police Lt. Todd Bernard.

A Virginia-based group, Dogs Deserve Better, which advocates against keeping dogs on chains, learned about the situation and started a Facebook campaign to have the animals removed. The group posted the telephone numbers for the South Portland code enforcement office, the City Council, the state Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and several local media outlets.

The group’s Facebook page shows pictures of a dog that appears to have a skin condition. The photos were taken last summer.

The group says the pets have not been allowed outdoors since Sunday, and the room where they are kept is covered with feces and urine and infested with fleas and other bugs, although the group does not say how it knows that.

The group also says Muse is living in a room above the garage that’s accessible only by a ladder.

“Generally, we are for chained and penned dogs. Dogs like this – holed up in a room – is, to me, a penned dog,” said Robin Budin, national rescue coordinator for Dogs Deserve Better.

The national group has helped rehabilitate 500 chained or penned dogs since 2002, Budin said. It also bought the kennels in Smithfield, Virginia, where NFL quarterback Michael Vick once held dogfighting competitions, then converted them into a rehabilitation facility, she said.

The group learned about the house in South Portland from a Maine resident who adopted one of the group’s rehabilitated dogs, she said.

South Portland police responded to the accusations on the group’s page Friday.

“Last fall, we charged the homeowner with animal cruelty and other animal violations, and arranged for veterinary intervention (graciously provided by a local shelter and veterinary office),” the department wrote. “Our recent contacts with the animals has shown their condition to be notably improved.”

Animal Control Officer Corey Hamilton said Friday that he intervened last summer when one of the dogs had a skin condition from infected flea bites.

He said he told Muse that if he gave up the dog, Hamilton would ensure that it was cared for and Muse would not be charged. Muse refused to give up the dog and was charged with animal cruelty. Maine law requires that a pet owner provide needed medical attention.

Two telephone numbers listed for Muse were not working when a Portland Press Herald reporter called them Friday.

Hamilton has since arranged to have the dog treated by a veterinarian and it has been doing much better, he said.

He said he saw Muse at the property a couple of weeks ago with the dog in the photo, and the animal appeared to be doing well.

The charges against Muse, which were backed up by extensive veterinarian reports and photographs, were dismissed by a judge a few weeks ago, Hamilton said. It’s unclear why the charges were dismissed. The prosecutor on the case was not available for comment.

When authorities went to the house a week ago after getting complaints about the animals from neighbors, Muse did not answer the door.

“The city continues to take steps to address the concerns at this address. We have been in contact with family members over the past couple of days, who are working to take care of the animals,” the police department said in its posting.

Police have contacted a relative who has agreed to take the animals and possibly turn them over to the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland.

Muse, 57, was a Democratic legislator representing South Portland from 1997 to 2002. In his final term, he was known for an animal welfare bill that sought to ban elephant acts from circuses because of alleged poor treatment. The bill passed in the House in 2001 but was rejected in the Senate.

Muse also tried, unsuccessfully, to create a state commission to study handgun violence.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @Mainehenchman

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