In Wilton last week, animal welfare agents and local police seized 75 dogs and puppies, 21 birds and three chickens from a mobile home on Route 2.
The dooryard of the home is well tended, but the animals living inside were most definitely not. Many were infected with fleas, covered with feces and suffering ear and eye infections.
Officials received a complaint about the conditions inside the home and, after obtaining a warrant, found the animals sick, starving and living in grossly unsanitary conditions.
According to Tufts University professor Dr. Gary Patronek, who has studied the phenomenon of animal hoarding, animal welfare agents across the country make about 1,500 of these discoveries every year, and as many as 250,000 of animals suffer and die as a result.
In the Wilton case, pet owner Nancy Champagne is expected to appear in Franklin County Superior Court in May for a hearing on whether the state will take permanent possession of the animals or whether she can retain ownership of some of her pets.
According to Patronek, people like Champagne truly love their pets and often consider them their “babies,” but the desire to house and help so many animals can often become harmful to both the pet owner and the animals. This is a very different kind of problem than deliberately harming an animal, but is considered animal cruelty nonetheless.
And, when so many animals are living in close quarters and in unsanitary conditions, the situation can become dangerous for the human caretaker. In cases where hoarding occurs in apartment buildings or closely-located dwellings, there is also potential danger to nearby residents.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, clinically diagnosed hoarding has a nearly 100 percent recidivism rate and recommends “that animal control, social service agencies, and health and housing agencies work together to treat each animal hoarding situation as a long-term project,” and work to include the support of families and other community members. In some cases, caretakers can heal enough to own a limited number of pets, but it takes a lot of work to get to that point.
Patronek, a veterinarian and epidemiologist, created what is known as the Tufts Animal Care and Condition Scales, used by animal welfare agents and courts to measure the condition of neglected animals, after researching the causes and characteristics of hoarding.
According to his research, close friends are often the first to recognize a problem, especially when a pet owner starts to withdraw from human relationships and turns to animals for emotional support, bringing home more animals than they can adequately care for. However, friends and family are often reluctant or incapable of intervening because the pet owner can be overly protective of their animals, hiding conditions inside their homes.
Maine has seen its share of hoarding cases in recent years, with similar patterns of a caretaker’s need to shelter too many pets, and then becoming withdrawn from their normal circle of friends. When friends or family see this kind of behavior develop, as painful as it might be to intervene, it’s always more painful to turn away and do nothing.
Painful for the caretaker, and particularly painful for the animals.
Paul Bunyan — the lumberjack of folklore — lives large in Rumford. Literally.
He's standing next to the Information Booth on Route 2.
But, in May, during the annual Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Festival, the mighty giant will have some hefty competition for being the biggest thing in town.
That’s the time — if state inspectors sign off on its safety — that the first of the 600-foot-long zip lines envisioned by Envision Rumford! will be open for business.
That’s 600 feet of gravity-propelled screaming good fun zipping over the Androscoggin River. And, if zippers look in the right direction and go it quickly, they may just catch a glimpse of Babe, the Blue Ox standing in the lawn over at the Rite Aid, watching the fun.
The zip line is such a big project, a premiere on the same weekend the town honors Paul Bunyan seems more than appropriate. It's colossal.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.