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The recent seizure of a large number of animals from a Deering Neighborhood Rd. residence brought up many questions about the process by which complaints about abuse and neglect of animals are handled. Sanford’s Animal Control Officer, Lauren Masellas, outlined it for us as follows:

Animal Control receives a complaint/concern about an animal(s). The ACO attempts to make contact with the owner and see the animals to determine if there are any care concerns that need to be addressed. Most of the time, any issues can be resolved through discussion and/or education and resources.

Should there be potential violation, a Notice to Comply may be issued outlining the concerns and steps that need to be taken by the owner to be in compliance with the animal welfare laws. A time frame is included for the owner to address the issues. After the agreed upon time to correct the issues has passed, a follow up visit is made to verify the conditions have been corrected. 99.9% of the time the owner has complied fully with the notice and this ends the investigation.

Should there still be issues, a discussion generally ensues to determine how to move forward in assisting the owner in satisfying the Notice to Comply appropriately. A second Notice to Comply may be issued outlining what additional steps must be taken to bring the situation into compliance with the law. If the owner continues to be unable or unwilling to meet the minimum standard of care for the animals involved after the second Notice to Comply time frame expires, a summons to court may be issued for the violation.

Should it be determined through investigation that any/all of the animals are in critical need of care and the owner is unable/unwilling to provide that care, a State Humane Agent may petition the court for a warrant to seize the animals in order to provide necessary care. The agent must present enough evidence to show that the owner has been unable/unwilling to meet the minimum standard of care by law and that the animals are in critical need hence justifying the seizure warrant. After the animals are seized, they still legally belong to the owner and must be kept in custody and cared for by the State.

The Court must then hold a Possession Hearing to give the owner of the animals the opportunity to show cause as to why they should be allowed to maintain ownership of the seized animals. The court reviews the evidence provided by the Humane Agent when the warrant was approved and any additional information the state has gathered. Information, documents and testimony from the owner is reviewed to show cause as to why the animals should be returned to them.

Based on the information provided at the Possession Hearing, the Court rules as to whether the animals will become the property of the State or be returned to the owner. If so warranted, additional charges may be filed by the agent against the owner after the possession hearing.

Removing animals from a home is always a last resort and only done when the health and welfare of the animal requires it. The goal of Animal Control and Animal Welfare is always to work with owners to provide the education and resources available that they may provide a healthy, safe environment for their pets.

In the case of Deering Neighborhood, the DA, the state animal welfare agent and the owner’s lawyer chose to reach an agreement rather than go to trial for the hearing. This is common practice when dealing with large seizures, as the state wants custody of the animals as soon as possible, due to the cost and care requirements of holding them for a protracted period, which is likely if they choose to go to trial. But when negotiating an agreement, there is always compromise on both sides.

The order that was finally agreed to allowed the owner to keep four of the pets, but does require the ACO/state agent to make periodic welfare checks to assure that the animals are being properly cared for, and that no part of the order as a whole is being violated. Any violation of the order could nullify it and legal action would again be required.

Please do your research before bringing a new pet into your family so that you know what unique care needs/environment may be required. If you need care information or resources to keep your beloved pet healthy and happy, do not hesitate to reach out to your local ACO, shelter or veterinarian.

For more information on animal hoarding, please see this page from the ASPCA.

Image by Rohit Tripathi from Pixabay

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