More than a dozen dogs and other animals seized from a home in Dexter in March and stuck in legal limbo for months can now receive advanced medical and behavioral care after the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland was granted permanent custody this week.

Charlie, a Shih Tzu mix seized from a home in Dexter in March, arrived at the Animal Refuge League with matted fir and a missing eye. Photo courtesy of the Animal Refuge League

But about 100 other animals considered “living evidence” in animal cruelty cases remain in limbo as Maine courts gradually resume proceedings that were put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic.

Liam Hughes, Maine’s director of animal welfare, said courts are beginning to work through how to hold hearings on animal cruelty cases, but how and when these hearings are held varies across the state. State law says a full hearing to determine custody of the animals must be held within 31 days of seizure, a timeline Hughes said the state should return to once courts fully resume proceedings.

“We’re hoping once the courts are organized and hold regular hearings, we can start streamlining this process,” he said. “These animals are living evidence, but we want to make sure they have proper medical care and that their behavioral needs are met.”

Two cases involving the seizure of large numbers of animals are still pending, Hughes said.

A possession hearing was held in June in a case that involves 84 cats taken from a home in Wales last November, but a judge has not yet released a ruling. A second case involving 25 Great Danes kept in risky conditions in Hampden is still pending eight months after the animals were taken into state custody, according to Hughes.

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On July 28, a judge in Penobscot County granted the state custody of 57 animals seized in Dexter in March. After 21 days, the state began transferring permanent custody of the dogs, cats, parrots, lizards, rabbits and guinea pigs to the shelters that have been caring for them.

Charlie, five months after he was seized from a home in Dexter, has been cared for by an Animal Refuge League canine care team member, who will adopt him. The league was granted permanent custody of 15 animals seized in the animal cruelty case. Photo courtesy of the Animal Refuge League

Hughes said the judge also ordered restitution of $12,740 to cover the cost of caring for the animals since they were seized on March 11. The District Attorney’s Office is still determining what charges will be filed in the case and Hughes said he was not able to disclose other details.

Kathryn Hurst, a feline care technician at the Animal Refuge League, combs fleas from Snowflake after the rabbit was seized from a home in Dexter in March. Photo courtesy of the Animal Refuge League

While the animals are held by the state pending possession hearings, they can only be given medical care that does not permanently alter them. That means, for example, that the animals cannot be spayed or neutered unless it is a lifesaving measure.

The nine dogs, three rabbits, two guinea pigs and two birds brought from Dexter to the refuge league were in conditions that were “heartbreaking” even for employees and volunteers who have worked in the field for years, said Jeana Roth, the shelter’s director of community engagement.

The animals received medical care on arrival that included treating ear infections, removing matted fur and combing out fleas. Teams of employees and volunteers worked late into the nights to make the animals as comfortable as possible. One guinea pig was humanely euthanized because of its grave prognosis, Roth said.

“As soon as possible, we sent them to foster homes where they could receive some dedicated TLC in a calm and quiet environment,” she said.

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Many of those animals will be adopted permanently into their foster homes after forming strong bonds with the people who have been caring for them, Roth said.

Some of the animals need advanced care that was not possible before the shelter was given permanent custody, Roth said. One dog is in need of entropion eye surgery because of trauma, and others will also need specialized veterinary care. Most of the animals also need to be spayed or neutured before they can be adopted.

The Animal Refuge League is still caring for 11 dogs that were taken in Hampden in January. Roth said she cannot disclose other details about those dogs because the shelter has not been granted permanent custody.

Animal Refuge League veterinary technicians Liz McGee, left, and Liz Lord examine Peanut shortly after the dog arrived at the shelter on March 11. Peanut was seized from a home in Dexter. Photo courtesy of the Animal Refuge League

The state reimburses shelters $5 per animal per day, but shelter directors say the real cost is much higher. Shelters rely on donors, corporate sponsors and fundraisers to cover those extra costs.

“We couldn’t do this without our sheltering partners,” Hughes said. “Every time we have a situation, they do what they need to do to help us. We appreciate all the work shelters in the state do to help us resolve the situation and take care of these animals while we’re working on the court cases.”


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