Animal cruelty charges in Bethel

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BETHEL – A Bethel man charged with eight counts of animal cruelty regarding livestock wants his seized horses back. The animal control officer who took the Belgian mare and foal on Dec. 8, and the state veterinarian both say no, emphatically.

Additionally, both officer Donald McCormick and Bethel Town Manager Scott Cole said Tuesday that animal cruelty complaints have been lodged against Larry G. Smith, 62, of 46 Vernon St., for the past 20 years.

“Larry’s questionable treatment of animals has gone on for years, and various town officials – managers, including me, police chiefs, and animal control officers – have brushed on it, but never came anywhere near closing the loop. Finally, someone has done the job right,” Cole said of McCormick. He’s served as Bethel’s animal control officer last year while also working as a Bethel patrolman.

“He has multiple horses, and he’s had multiple horses die,” McCormick said of Smith by phone Tuesday afternoon from the police station.

“I’ve cited him six different times. It’s a question of his structures and the way he takes inadequate care of the animals. They always wallow in mud,” he added.

Smith, contacted Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, deferred comment to his lawyer.

“It’s all bogus,” he said Tuesday regarding the charges in two criminal cases and a civil case pending against him.

Smith’s lawyer, David Whittier of Paris, was unavailable Tuesday. A clerk said he was away on a sabbatical. A number given Wednesday by Smith for his lawyer was for John Jenness of Paris. A clerk at that office said on Wednesday that Jenness has yet to take the case and isn’t aware of the details.

According to Rumford District Court documents, Smith was convicted of one count of animal cruelty on July 19, 2005, for failing to provide medical attention to a litter of 12-week-old Airedale terrier puppies that developed a severe skin infection and were then sold in September 2004. Smith was fined $500.

Three other counts then charging animal cruelty for three individual puppies with the same infection were filed until July 19, 2006, on condition that no more allegations were made against Smith regarding any violations of similar animal control statutes.

Two days after that deadline passed, new complaints began surfacing that would eventually lead to McCormick charging Smith with eight counts of cruelty to animals between July and December 2006.

Regarding the last one, during which McCormick seized Smith’s Belgian mare “Jesse” and its newborn foal, McCormick said the horse gave birth in the snow at Smith’s second farm at 364 Vernon St.

At the time, it was snowing, the outside temperature was 10 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind chill made it zero degrees, he stated in a search warrant affidavit.

At the farm, McCormick said the complainant told him the foal was wet from birth and would die of hypothermia if it didn’t get immediate shelter. McCormick could not contact Smith, so he called Maine Animal Welfare Program veterinarian Christine Fraser in Augusta.

According to her statement in the search warrant documents, Fraser said she was also worried that the mare would go into toxic shock.

She recommended seizure of the animals so McCormick got a search warrant and took the horses several hours later while Smith watched. He then summoned Smith,

Smith, through Whittier, pleaded not guilty to all six criminal case charges.

On Dec. 11, Smith filed to recover what he said was the illegal seizure of the mare and colt.

According to the document, Smith through Whittier blamed the horse for causing the stir.

“Jesse had the option of the barn, a shelter or the field, and chose the field for the birth of her young,” he stated.

He said the mare was adequately caring for the colt and it was in good health as verified by the state veterinarian.

Fraser said otherwise.

Both mare and foal were examined Dec. 9 by a veterinarian at Oxford Hills Veterinary Hospital in Paris, and found to be in poor health, Fraser stated Dec. 11, according to search warrant documents.

McCormick said Tuesday that both horses are at an equine hospital in Dover, N.H.

“These animals were treated cruelly, having been deprived of adequate shelter for a mare and neonatal foal, and were not protected from the weather, nor provided necessary medical care by their owner/caretaker,” Fraser stated.

Because both mare and foal need continued medical treatment, to be housed properly and protected from the weather, Fraser requested that permanent custody of them be granted to Maine’s Animal Welfare Program.

A decision on that is pending.

Pullout Box:

Animal cruelty charges pending against Larry G. Smith, 62, of 46 Vernon St., Bethel, are:

• July 22: intentionally or recklessly depriving a horse of necessary food and medical attention, proper shelter, humanely clean conditions, and protection from the weather. The horse died.

• July 22: failing to do the same for two horses.

• Aug. 4: depriving a horse of the same necessities, and intentionally or recklessly killing or attempting to kill a horse inhumanely. The horse suffered for 10 minutes after being shot by Smith with a .22-caliber bullet prior to a second attempt to kill it, Animal Control Officer Donald McCormick said Tuesday.

• Aug. 5: depriving a black Angus cow and its calf of food, medical attention, proper shelter, humanely clean conditions and protection from the weather. McCormick said the cow birthed the calf, and Smith stored them both in “extreme heat” from July 22 to Aug. 5 inside a metal trailer that was 20 feet long and 4 feet wide. “There was no food or drinking water inside, and, there was so much filth,” he said.

• Dec. 8: not providing proper shelter, protection from the weather, humanely clean conditions, and necessary medical attention for a Belgian mare and her newborn foal.

• Dec. 8: civil charge for the same, and not maintaining a structurally sound shelter to protect an animal from injury and house it.

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