April 06, 2020

Testimony centers on conditions of 21 seized animals

CALAIS – A Topsfield woman whose animals were seized by state animal welfare agents last month was in court Friday wanting her 20 dogs and one cat returned.

Testimony is expected to resume in 4th District Court on Nov. 7.

The dogs seized included two Cavalier King Charles spaniel-poodle hybrids, one Cavalier King Charles spaniel and one white standard poodle. The remaining dogs were black miniature poodles. On Sept. 19, agent Chrissy Perry of the state’s Animal Welfare Program went to the home of Margo Malpher on North Road, acting on a tip that the dogs’ kennel was filthy. Perry found no one home but learned that Malpher frequently traveled to Massachusetts and often left the dogs alone, her report on file in the court said.

Perry said she could hear dogs barking inside the house and in the nearby kennel. “I could smell a strong odor of urine and feces coming from the area,” her report said. “A large dog inside the house was jumping up and appeared to be smearing a brown substance resembling fecal matter on the window.”

Perry left a notice and returned two more times, but Malpher still was not home.

On Sept. 21, Perry, along with a state veterinarian and trooper, went back to the Malpher residence. This time the dog owner was home.

The dogs were taken to the Bangor Humane Society. Several of the dogs had a black discharge coming from their ears. It took five groomers at the Bangor Humane Society all weekend to clean the dogs. The groomers found that several of the dogs appeared to have skin problems related to severe matting, and some had urine scalding on their bodies, especially their feet, the report said. Some of the pads on their feet were bleeding.

In court Friday, Malpher’s attorney, Ronald Bourget of Augusta, questioned the constitutionality of the law under which the dogs had been seized, but Judge John Romei read the law in question and disagreed. The hearing went forward.

Malpher testified that she had gone to Massachusetts on the day in question but was gone only 20 hours. She said when she returned she discovered animal welfare officials had been on her property because Perry had posted a notice.

The woman testified that her dogs were well cared for and explained that she left the hair matted on her poodles so they would not hurt themselves if they fell on rocks and ledge in her yard. She also testified that she had left one dog in the house, the other 19 dogs in the kennel. She said she slept in the kennel with the dogs.

When First District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh showed Malpher pictures of her dog, she testified that the pictures were useless to her because she could not identify them by picture. “They could be mine, they could be anyone else’s,” she said. “I have to see my dogs in person.”

At first Malpher testified that she had groomed and clipped her dogs about three months before agents showed up on her property, but later testified that she had trimmed some of the dogs before she’d left. She couldn’t remember how many.

She also testified that she couldn’t remember how often she went to Massachusetts.

The state humane agent then testified that she had gone to the Malpher residence as the result of a complaint. Under direct examination by Malpher’s attorney, he made much of the fact that the dogs were neither dehydrated, malnourished, injured nor maimed as defined by the statute under which the state had seized the animals.

But Perry testified that the matting prevented the dogs from relieving themselves and was in her opinion cruelty. She also testified that some of the dogs had burned feet.

Perry told the district attorney that when they entered the kennel the smell of urine was “overpowering.” She also testified that neither the windows in the kennel nor the door to the exercise area was open.

She testified that Malpher cooperated with the agents in the removal of the dogs and cat.

Once the dogs were placed in the vehicles, Perry testified, the smell was so overpowering that she and the state’s veterinarian had to ride to Bangor with their windows open.

Cavanaugh then directed Perry to the condition of the dogs. When she tried to describe the fecal matter that was matted in the dogs’ hair, Bourget objected, saying there was not scientific evidence of feces. The judge rejected the objection.

Cavanaugh then showed Perry pictures of the dogs. She testified as to the condition of each of the dogs, including one named Fancy Free who had fecal matting over her eyes making it difficult for the dog to see.

Because of the lateness of the hour Friday, Romei suspended the proceedings until Nov. 7.

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