LEWISTON — A local woman and her fiance pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty charges Wednesday, a month after animal welfare officials and police seized 64 animals from their Howe Street apartment.
Samantha Bell, 29, has been charged with five counts of animal cruelty and one charge of disorderly conduct that stems from her alleged actions the day the animals were taken.
Paul Lauze, 35, has been charged with one count of animal cruelty.
Bell appeared in court on crutches Wednesday, saying her Lyme disease had progressed to the point she was having trouble walking. She was allowed to remain free without bail, but she was ordered not to possess any animals except those that are aquatic. The judge said Bell could later file a motion to try to get back a service dog that was taken with the other animals.
Lauze was already in custody Wednesday because the animal cruelty charge was a probation violation for him. Bell said he was on probation for domestic violence.
Lauze appeared in court, in custody, Wednesday afternoon. He pleaded not guilty to the animal cruelty charge and denied violating probation. A judge said Lauze could be released from jail if he posted $100 cash bail and was supervised during his release. A condition of his release, like Bell’s, included no animals except for aquatic pets.
A hearing on the state’s motion to revoke his bail was scheduled for April 27.
The charges are misdemeanors, each punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a fine of at least $500. If found guilty, Bell and Lauze could also be required to pay for the animals’ care and could be prohibited from owning other animals.
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, one ferret and other animals 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 has said the animals were hers but Lauze helped her care for them. She has denied that any of her animals were neglected or mistreated.
Bell has said she 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 them.
She wants back 27 of the 64 that were taken, including nine cats, four dogs, two lizards, four snakes, five birds, two hamsters and one ferret. One of the dogs is a registered service animal that Bell said helps with anxiety and alerts her when she has a medical situation.
Animal welfare officials and police last month seized 64 animals from an apartment in this building at 114 and 116 Howe St. in Lewiston. The renters of the apartment, Samantha Bell and Paul Lauze, have pleaded not guilty to cruelty to animals.