Saturday, March 4, 2017

Maine: Animal Welfare investigated Samantha Bell for 3 years before seizing 64 animals in Lewiston

MAINE -- Animal Welfare officials spent three and a half years responding to complaints and working with a local woman who was keeping dozens of animals, some of them allegedly sick, injured or neglected, before the department and police seized her 64 pets this week, according to court records.

Officials on Wednesday pulled 25 cats, five pigeons, five turtles, four dogs, four snakes, four parakeets, four chinchillas, three gerbils, two hamsters, two lizards and one ferret from the fourth-floor, 116 Howe St., Lewiston, apartment of Samantha Bell and her fiance, Paul Lauze.

Many of the pets needed immediate medical attention. Officials also found one dead animal.

Bell was arrested for disorderly conduct at her apartment Wednesday morning and was released on $110 bail later that day. No one has been charged with a crime related to the animals, though an Animal Welfare Program spokeswoman has said charges may be considered after all of the animals have been evaluated and the evidence analyzed.

Bell declined to comment Friday.

In a 21-page affidavit seeking a search warrant this week, Animal Welfare agent Angela Young detailed the contact officials had with Bell, starting in August 2013, when Bell was living in Phillips and two people called to complain that she had abandoned dogs, cats and a 4-foot boa constrictor in her camper on High Street.

That situation was resolved, Young said, when one of the callers took some of the cats and Bell later retrieved most of the other animals and left the snake loose outside.

The Animal Welfare Program received another complaint about Bell in January 2014, when she was living on Main Street in Phillips. That complaint, made by the local animal control officer, alleged she had "multiple animals living in filthy conditions."

Young said she met with Bell at her home and found two dogs — which Bell called her service animals — and five cats, one of them pregnant. Young said the cats appeared to be in good condition and had food, water and a large litter box. She talked with Bell about the state's low-cost spay/neuter program and left applications for the vouchers.

According to her affidavit, Young spent the next three years in regular contact with Bell as she got more pets, struggled to care for her animals, moved to Lewiston, dealt with personal health problems and complained that people were stealing or hurting her animals. During that time, the Animal Welfare Program fielded at least one more complaint about the conditions her animals were living in.

Young brought Bell pet food and low-cost spay/neuter applications and helped bring animals to the vet. At times, she and others encouraged Bell to give up some of her pets, particularly the cats, but Bell often refused.

"Ms. Bell replied, stating '(T)he cats I will not give up' and that she has had them since birth," Young wrote about a visit in February 2014.

Bell told Young that she adopted some of her animals from shelters, while others were the offspring of pets she already had. Sometimes she was vague about where she got her animals.

Several of Bell's animals died over the three years, including a 17-week old kitten that was euthanized because of an untreated, perforated eye ulcer, severe dehydration and severe emaciation.

In early February, Bell told Young that she and her husband had let a friend move into their 116 Howe St. apartment and he had killed some of their cats.

Young said Bell and Lauze also possessed other dead animals, including two guinea pigs, one of which had a neck that Bell said "got snapped."

Young said Lewiston police investigated the couple's claims that their friend had killed their cats.

Young said the investigating officer reported he did not have enough evidence to prove the man had killed their cats, "but he found it odd and unsanitary that they would leave dead animals on an unsecured porch," Young wrote. He said he believed the couple had too many animals and may not be able to provide for them all.

Young sent more than a dozen of the couple's dead animals to the University of New Hampshire for examination. Several animals were too decomposed to gain much information, but the lab found a cat and a ferret died from blunt force trauma, another cat was extremely thin and suffered from pneumonia and renal failure and a dog had bite marks around his skull from a larger dog.

A few days later, Bell notified Young that another cat had died because he was "just old." However, Young found a similar cat on a list of pets Bell had provided earlier and he was listed as 6 years old.

"The Animal Welfare Program has attempted to assist Ms. Bell and Mr. Lauze with the current animal population and they continue failing to provide medical care while abusing the resources they have been offered," Young wrote in her affidavit. "Ms. Bell and Mr. Lauze have repeatedly been unable to provide necessary care, proper shelter and/or humanely clean conditions."

The Animal Welfare Program released a statement Friday that said, in part, "This search warrant was conducted as part of an ongoing investigation that started in 2013."

A spokeswoman declined to say why the animals weren't seized earlier in the three and a half year investigation.

The animals were sent to several shelters across the state, where they are being evaluated and cared for.

(Sun Journal - March 3, 2017)