Testimony to legislative committee on March 6, 2009
Good morning. Thank you for listening to my testimony.
My name is Barbara Skapa. I live in Mt Vernon and am supposed to be retired but am known to Commissioner Bradstreet and his dairy staff as Barbara of Echo Ridge Organic cows’ milk cheese; as the Dept of Ag licenses me as a cheesemaker.
I am a member of various animal protection orgs including ME Friends of Animals, Voice for Animals, the Maine Federation of Dog Clubs, on behalf of which I do NOT testify this morning; but rather on behalf of members of the recently incorporated Maine Poodle Rescue. My avocation is the rescue, rehabilitation and adopting out of standard poodles. In the last 3 years I am happy to report placing 20 of them right here in Central Maine. They are thriving.
You need to know why I am here today and where I stand in regards to budgetary allocations for State AW.
My answer is this: 4 months ago I would have stood here and applauded its work and endorsed its needs for money as unlimited as possible. But I went through an experience that took me from supporting state AW, to ambivalence, to finally denial of support for a division that in our view is not meeting its obligations to dogs in dire distress. So right now I stand in opposition to allocating precious resources to state AW, not without major reform of that dept.
This is the reason. A story that unfolds in layers.
Through the poodle grapevine I had heard of a puppy mill in Newport that was selling standard poodles at bargain basement prices: $250-$300 for a pup that sells for at least $1000 from reputable breeders. Ads in Uncle Henry’s are the primary marketing tool of puppy mill owners and that is how I located and then visited the kennel. (owned by Carol Thibault, 62 of 328 Old Bangor Rd in Newport) Our aim was to ascertain if in fact conditions at her kennel were as bad as we had heard and to see whether we could negotiate with the owner to remove some of her stock.
The first visit around Thanksgiving of 2008 was indeed worse than we had been told. Filthy conditions. No food or water available for some dozen dogs, both huskies and standard poodles, and all looking quite under-nourished and certainly under-socialized. All kept outside in chain link pens 24 hours a day, year ‘round exposed to all weather conditions. The pups were tucked into a tiny space on a ramshackle porch. The dogs smelled to high heaven from their own filth.
Outside her front door, I negotiated with the owner to sell me the unsold 5 month old pups in return for releasing adult breeders to Rescue. She agreed. Not out of sympathy but because she was exceeding the allowable limit of her kennel license and the promise of cash for the pups sealed the deal. I personally paid for the pups so that I could rescue the adult breeders. On subsequent visits we bought 5 pups (all now neutered and adopted) and took home 2 adult breeders: a male and female . The pups were sold for $200-$250 for which I paid cash = the only way puppy millers deal. Note that on the sales slips for the pups no tax was charged or rendered to the State of Maine which is required legally from licensed breeders. During this time I kept Norma Worley appraised by telephone and by FAXing my notes to her office. She informed me that her staff was well acquainted with this kennel, that numerous complaints were logged by the public, and that her staff had removed 50 dogs in 2004 and another 15 in early 2008.
In other words, I knew I was dealing with a very bad situation and that I needed to document every single step I took. I fully expected State AW to help me and to do something about the remaining dogs in the kennel. It was a very stressful period for me and others as very cold temperatures were approaching and we feared for the lives of the standard poodles that are not bred for extreme cold, have no undercoat as huskies do and have only the minimum of shelter without even protection from wind. I started to describe the kennel to supporters and poodle lovers as a concentration camp for dogs. I fully anticipated that working with the local ACO, Norma Worley and her Animal Welfare agents she would do something about the kennel. None of these state employees charged with protection of animals did anything. The local ACO had to be written off as clueless from the start. He did not even know that Maine protects whistle blowers from complaints about animal neglect. Several follow up calls to the ACO demonstrated either he did not care, was too busy with other work as a police officer for Newport, and/or approved of the conditions at the kennel, including the condition of Raven which he allowed was a "skinny" dog. I started to become ambivalent about StateAW: this ACO is still in his job after 4 years though clearly negligent of duty. He was not trained properly. Indeed State AW in Augusta did not even have his name on record.
This layer of our story now involves the saddest part: it concerns the 8yr old breeding male named Raven, now renamed by his adopters Ranger. We took him out, along with 2 pups, in mid December . Before he got into my vehicle we removed his collar: it was rusted. His coat was filthy and heavily matted. He was clearly thin and acted fearful. He smelled to high heaven. His entire 8 years were spent in a small pen. His ears were black from dirt. At the Vet clinic the following day for a complete physical exam we saw he was much worse off than initially thought. What the ACO claimed was skinniness was far worse. (The Vet, Dr. Bill Bryant of Winthrop Veterinary Clinic and Vet for all our rescues filed his report of negligence to State AW.) Raven/Ranger could not bark because his trachea were damaged by the tight collar. He was underweight because the collar hurt so much how could he eat? His teeth were rotten and his gums so infected there was no question of extracting them until the gums were treated first so that he could also eat his fill and gain weight before surgery. His coat was severely matted and filthy. His ears were filthy with one of them very badly infected. Naturally he also had worms of various kinds. And his muscle tone was non-existent. And he needed to be neutered before adopting him out. The condition of the dog was so bad that the Vet recommended we deal with immediate issues before attempting neutering: and this we did. His fosters nursed him and within 2 months the Vet was able to operate on Ranger to remove 4 teeth, and later to neuter him. No one from State AW tried to help this suffering poodle. Even though State AW Vet Christine. Fraser saw the dog several times on her visits; did she lay her hands on him to even start to determine the damage to his body? She did not. Let us not even talk about the other standard poodle breeding bitches and males that remain at the kennel today: some 6-7 of them. Their relentless constant suffering kept me and others awake at night.
Your Vet, Christine Fraser, visited the kennel both prior and after we removed Ranger and told me that though conditions were not ideal they were acceptable to her & did not meet the standard of seizing the dogs and thus to prevent a warranted seizure she advised the owner to ensure that drinking water was available to the dogs all the time as that is a legal requirement. She told her to buy some big buckets "so that the water would not freeze so fast." The day and nighttime temperatures during this period were in the 10's and 15's for high and -20F and -25F at night. Just how long would that water be drinkable? Her top concern was disease (which is warranted because the grounds are infested with whip worms which can never be eradicated; all the poodles pups and adults alike were and some still are infested).
Let us remember that according to the Bangor Daily News State AW is in debt to the tune of $600,000; due to the expose and seizure of dogs and two puppy mills during 2008. One of which mind you was finally busted not because of State AW’s dauntless efforts but because a NH Traffic Policeman stopped a car carrying dead dogs from one of the mills. State AW obviously wants to avoid more legal fees, and wants to avoid dumping dogs on humane shelters because the latter do not welcome them. We in Poodle Rescue are prepared to shelter and cure and find homes for the standard poodles if State AW which has a monopoly on issuing warrants does so.
In the meantime I asked myself just how broken is the Animal Welfare system in my state if it allows suffering to continue for years and years, despite animal protection statutes that are some of the best in the nation? Why can’t we afford to have a veterinarian, paid for by our taxes, examine dogs in a kennel that is being investigated? Just this week the we discovered that Carol Thibault can start breeding again because the ACO authorized her town to re-issue her license.
When you add this all up you can only conclude one thing: the entire system for protection of these animals is broken. From top to bottom and in between. We do the right thing by spending our own money to remove abused poodles, the Vet does the right thing by reporting neglect, I do the right thing by reporting to State AW and seeking help. The media do the right thing and publish yet another article (the 4th in a series going back several years) about the Newport puppy mill (BDN Jan 16) and now WABI Channel picks up on that and is reporting (on me, on Raven/Ranger and his adopters and on Poodle Rescue and on Animal Welfare) - I doubt that once that report is aired State AW is going to look very pretty.
The Newport Puppy mill case has galvanized standard poodle owners in Maine. On March 1st 20 of us met to structure ourselves as a legal IRS recognized 501C3 rescue organization. 3 of our members are lawyers, all of whom have standard poodles....because they are so smart......all working pro-bono to move the legal agenda forward. On March 29 we meet again, at which time we expect 100 poodle people to turn up and get involved in poodle rescue, placement and to advance an agenda with State AW. We are ready to work with State AW to shelter, rehabilitate, cure and find homes for poodles. We are also a rescue group that, unlike others, is not afraid to critique the work of State AW. Nor do we feel compelled to enter into a relationship of co-dependency with it just because "it is the only game in town."
I am here today on behalf of these people.
State AW has failed the dogs in Newport, and will continue to fail until reforms are instituted in the Division itself. And for that reason we believe that State AW should not receive further funding even in these critical times until it shows it can do the job for which it is mandated... Starting with revoking the kennel license of Carol Thibault, firing the ACO and removing the poodles and huskies from a concentration camp into the care of Rescues.
Barbara C. Skapa
Maine Poodle Rescue
Mt Vernon, Maine