LEWISTON — Charges have been filed against a local woman and her fiance a month after animal welfare officials and police seized 64 animals from their apartment.
Samantha Bell, 29, has been charged with five counts of animal cruelty, according to the Androscoggin County District Court. Paul Lauze, 35, has been charged with one count of animal cruelty.
Both are scheduled to be arraigned April 12.
The charges are misdemeanors, each punishable by up to 364 days in jail and up to a $2,000 fine.
Officials on March 1 pulled 25 cats, five pigeons, five turtles, four dogs, four snakes, four parakeets, four chinchillas, three gerbils, two hamsters, two lizards and one ferret from the couple’s fourth-floor apartment at 116 Howe St. in Lewiston.
The Maine Animal Welfare Program said many of the pets needed immediate medical attention. Officials also found one dead animal.
Animal welfare officials spent three-and-a-half years responding to complaints and working with Bell on her animals, according to court records.
Bell on Tuesday told the Sun Journal the animals were hers but Lauze helped her care for them. She emphatically denied that any of her animals were neglected or mistreated.
The couple also challenged the Animal Welfare Program’s assertion that some of the animals needed immediate medical attention after they were seized.
Bell said she rescued most of the animals from neglect, abuse or other bad circumstances. She said she had realized 64 animals were too many and was in the process of finding homes for many of the pets when they were seized.
She has since legally surrendered 37 of the animals.
However, Bell wants back 27 of the 64 that were seized, including nine cats, four dogs, two lizards, four snakes, five birds, two hamsters and one ferret. One of the dogs is a registered and licensed service animal that Bell said helps with anxiety and alerts her when she has a medical situation.
Bell said in an email Thursday that the animals were examined after they were seized and she saw no red flags in the medical reports she got from the District Attorney’s Office.
“I do not see how they can charge someone when the discovery clearly says no abuse or (trauma) was found,” she said.
She added that she would never harm a pet.
“I never spend money on myself, its always for the babies. They always get toys, clothing, extra food, bedding, car bed, toddler bed, crib, playpen, strollers and high chair. They are like my children,” she said. “They got me out of bed every day and kept me happy. . . . I love them with all my heart.”
Animal welfare officials and police seized 64 animals from an apartment in this building at 114 and 116 Howe St. in Lewiston on March 1. This week, Samantha Bell, 29, was charged with five counts of animal cruelty, and her fiance, Paul Lauze, 35, was charged with one count of animal cruelty.
Samantha Bell, right, and her fiance, Paul Lauze, listen to court proceedings Tuesday afternoon in 8th District Court in Lewiston. That hearing, to determine who gets custody of Bell’s animals, was postponed to give Bell time to apply for a court-appointed lawyer and time to go through information provided by the District Attorney’s Office. Later in the week Bell and Lauze were charged with animal cruelty.