PORTLAND (AP) – Maine’s highest court Thursday upheld the confiscation of 20 dogs and one cat from a breeder in Washington County, rejecting arguments that the state followed improper procedures and that the law authorizing the seizure is too vague.

The dogs were seized when a state humane agent, a veterinarian and a state trooper showed up with a search warrant at Margo Malpher’s home in Topsfield on Sept. 21, 2006, and found the animals’ conditions to be “unlivable.”

The dogs, most of them miniature poodles, had heavily matted coats and were covered in feces and wet with urine. The animals were transported to the Bangor Humane Society.

After a two-day hearing later that fall in Calais District Court, Judge John Romei ordered the animals forfeited to the state because of the cruel treatment they endured.

The Supreme Judicial Court set aside Malpher’s claim that she was denied due process when the animals were confiscated before a hearing could take place.

The justices found that Chrissy Perry of the Maine Animal Welfare Program informed Malpher of why she was taking the animals. In addition, the court noted, Malpher had full opportunity over two days of trial to present her case.

“Her argument to the trial court that the animals’ condition was analogous to that of a person with dreadlocks was apparently not convincing,” the law court said.

It also brushed aside the argument that the law in question is too vague because it doesn’t define the term “cruelly treated.”

“People of common intelligence need not guess that ‘cruelly treated,’ in the context of a statute regulating the treatment of animals, refers to treatment that causes suffering or pain,” the opinion concluded.

Malpher’s lawyer, Ronald Bourget of Augusta, expressed disappointment at the ruling, saying it failed to address concerns that the law fails to spell out various aspects of the forfeiture process in a way that ordinary people can understand.

AP-ES-02-28-08 1431EST

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