In this Sun Journal file photo from Nov. 7, 2019, two cats sit outside the barn at 222 Ridge Road in Wales. Eighty-three cats and kittens were removed by authorities from the premises two days earlier. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file photo Buy this Photo

WALES — Nearly a year after 83 cats were seized from a farm in Wales, a judge has ordered that they be returned to the owner. 

When the cats were seized from the farm at 222 Ridge Road on Nov. 5, animal welfare officials described an alarming scene — cats with discharge coming from their eyes and noses. Cats with ear mites, skin conditions and various injuries. 

One of 83 cats seized from a Wales farm last year. After the cats were confiscated, they were cared for by the Jordan Livestock Rescue in Farmington. The first photo is of the cat the day it was seized; the second photo was taken after being treated there. Photo submitted

While they were confiscating the animals, state officials noted, some cats scurried into walls and could not be captured, a turn of events that would ultimately impact the court ruling.

For a year, Kathleen O’Connell, owner of the farm and the cats, has argued that the animals were well-treated, should not have been seized and should be returned to her. 

In a ruling dated Sept. 25, a Lewiston District Court judge agreed, dismissing the case for lack of merit after finding that “other than the failure to vaccinate many of the cats for rabies, the owner has not violated the permissible standards of care for the cats.” 

The court ruling also noted that when the cats were seized from the farm, the animals had adequate food and water and that the food bowls were clean. 

“In the areas the owner was aware of cats living,” according to the court document, “the living conditions were humanely clean for animals under Maine law.” 

District Court Judge Charles A. Dow also noted that the actions of the state, which sought a lien for $178,629 to cover the cost of the seizure and medical care, “has forced the owner to literally bet the farm on her defense. . . . The sum sought by the state is unfair in the court’s view.” 

Ten of the cats were spayed or neutered, according to the court file.

The judge also took note of the fact that state officials never returned to the farm to retrieve the cats they were unable to catch the first time. 

“As to the state’s inaction in failing to seize or make other provision for the remaining cats,” he wrote, “it significantly undermines the state’s position that the owner was mistreating or depriving the cats of necessary care and treatment, and it unfairly exposes the owner to additional civil penalties.” 

After seizing the cats last year, the Maine Animal Welfare Program placed the recovered animals with Jordan Livestock Rescue, a small shelter in Farmington that takes in animals seized by the Maine Animal Welfare Program.  

According to caregivers at the rescue, 65 of the cats required a course of antibiotics, 52 had upper respiratory infections, 48 had dental disease that required pulling teeth, 25 had ear mites while 14 had ear infections. 

After caring for the cats for most of a year, caretakers at the rescue said they were “devastated” by the court ruling. 

One of 83 cats seized from a Wales farm last year. After the cats were confiscated, they were cared for by the Jordan Livestock Rescue in Farmington. The first photo is of the cat the day it was seized; the second photo was taken after being treated there. Submitted photo

“We saw the condition of the animals firsthand and have hundreds of hours caring for them since they were seized,” the group wrote in a statement. “We are devastated by Judge Dow’s decision and are deeply concerned about the welfare of the cats that remain in the care of Kathleen (O’Connell). We are also concerned about the ramifications of this decision on future animal welfare cases brought before this judge.” 

At the same time, O’Connell, on her website Elmvale Farm, bemoaned the treatment of the cats at the hands of the animal welfare workers and described the trauma inflicted on the animals. 

“The cats were hunted like prey and captured in nets,” according to the website. “Broken windows and misplaced items indicate cats fleeing in terror. The cats were placed in little cardboard boxes, given numbers, and shipped off without an identity or history to a destination known only to the state, the doctors and the handlers.  

“Based on medical reports,” the statement continues, “they have been poked and prodded, had tests and treatments done on old scars, been given unnecessary medications, and been injected with an antibiotic which appears to have been administered against recommended protocols and whose side effects include anaphylaxis and death. Other than pictures of a few sitting in little cages looking dejected, shaking in fear, lying in their own feces and urine in an attempt to hide in the litter boxes, their fate is unknown to the people who love them.” 

In his ruling, Judge Dow ordered that the cats should be returned to O’Connell “as soon as it can reasonably be arranged, consistent with the health and safety of the cats.” 

It was not clear Tuesday afternoon whether the cats had yet been returned to the farm on Ridge Road. On its website, Elmvale Farm boasts that it has 101 cats, which can be visited or adopted by the public. 

The farm is described as “a sanctuary for a community of farm cats.” It’s also home to numerous species of birds and other wildlife.


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