A Gray woman was summoned for alleged animal cruelty last month after animal welfare authorities confiscated 80 dogs, including 30 puppies, from a cramped home that they believe was being operated as an unlicensed breeding kennel, court records show.

Anita McBride, 52, of Hunts Hill Road, was issued the summons Jan. 22 by the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office the same day that authorities from the Animal Welfare division of the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry executed a search warrant at the 744-square-foot Cape-style home to take possession of the animals, which were being held in substandard living conditions, according to the court records.

Anita McBride said she moved from Oklahoma to Gray in November, accompanied by roughly 55 animals, to help her ailing 91-year-old mother clear out her home. She said the accusations against her are false, misleading or contain incomplete information. “I have been cleaning since … I got here,” she said. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Inside, authorities found 50 adult dogs, 30 puppies and two cats in rooms that also were packed with household garbage and other debris. The dogs, including litters of newborn puppies, were living amid their own feces and urine, sometimes in stacks of kennels or cages, and did not have access to food or water, the court records say.

Along with the dogs, McBride was living there with her 91-year-old mother, Marjorie Higgins, who owns the home, according to town records.

State law requires animal owners to provide proper nutrition, water and medical care for their animals.

McBride disputes that her care was substandard. She said her living situation with her mother was temporary, and that she is looking to buy a home so she can give her animals the space they need.

“I didn’t think I’d be in all of this mess just trying to come and help my mom,” McBride said.

Authorities first caught wind of the situation when two people who bought puppies from McBride discovered that the animals were infested with parasites and reported her to Gray animal control, the court records say. A third person, a workman hired to fix something in the home, also reported the conditions, but it was unclear to whom.

Anita McBride says she moved into the Hunts Hill Road home where she grew up to help care for her mother. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

In an interview inside her home, McBride said she moved to Maine in November to help her mother clear her home of 30 years worth of junk, garbage and debris, and brought her roughly 55 animals with her. She said the living arrangement was supposed to be temporary and that the accusations against her are false, misleading or contain incomplete information.

“I won’t deny that they were in a bad situation when they were here,” McBride said. “But I have been cleaning since day one when I got here.”

FOCUS ON OWNER AND ANIMALS

Liam Hughes, director of Animal Welfare for the state, largely declined to speak directly about McBride’s case because it is ongoing, but said that in general, most of his department’s work focuses on people and not just the animals they own.

“Anyone we get involved with, we try to let them see the mistakes and correct the mistakes,” Hughes said. “We only take these steps when we feel that all else has failed and the conditions are putting the animals at risk.”

Hughes added: “These are people who are having a hard day, or had a recent change of their lifestyle. And they might not understand the predicament they’re in. … If this situation is a catalyst to getting Ms. McBride the help that she needs, great. That’s one of our goals as well.”

Hughes said that since the search warrant was executed last week, the animals have been housed and cared for by at least five different shelters in the state, and that at least one of the dogs confiscated from McBride has since given birth to more puppies.

None of the dogs taken by the state has died, and all are receiving medical care as needed, Hughes said. Although all of the animals and the conditions they were living in were photographed when the animals were confiscated, Hughes said he could not release photos until they are entered as evidence in the court process.

According to court records, Tulsa authorities cited Anita McBride once in 2013 for having too many dogs, and five other times for having more than 5 unspayed female dogs. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

McBride is due to appear in court Feb. 20, when she will have the burden to prove why she should be allowed to get her animals back. She said she is in the process of hiring an attorney, and plans to bring witnesses who will attest to her ability to care for the dogs.

McBride said she moved back to Maine from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and into the Hunts Hill Road home where she grew up to help care for her mother, whose health problems had prevented her from keeping up her house, leading to an overwhelming amount of clutter and debris.

“When I moved here, it was about my mom’s well-being,” said McBride, who still has possession of one white German shepherd, Dudley. He escaped the property before animal welfare workers could corral him and has since returned to her.

“This house was cluttered from top to bottom, and it’s not cluttered top to bottom any more,” McBride said.

DIFFICULT LIVING CONDITIONS

Indeed, outside the home, stacks of trash bags are piled on either side of the front steps, and McBride said she is awaiting the delivery of a dumpster.

But since she arrived, in addition to caring for her mother and working to clear out junk and garbage room by room, the dogs continued to have litters of puppies, complicating their living situation, she said.

Court records also indicate that even without the dogs, living conditions were difficult inside the home. McBride and her mother both live on fixed incomes. Her mother receives Social Security checks and McBride receives disability benefits. Neither has a job. McBride also told authorities that the well water at the property is contaminated, forcing the family to buy bottled jugs of fresh water.

Money to buy heating oil also was scarce, and during one visit to the home by animal welfare workers the two women were heating the home with space heaters before their next scheduled oil delivery a week later, according to court records.

MOTHER DEFENDS DAUGHTER

McBride dismissed any notion that her animals were living in substandard conditions. She said she has worked as a veterinary technician in the past, regularly vaccinated her dogs, and kept them on regular feeding and watering schedules. McBride said she chose not to leave water dishes in the kennels out of concern that young puppies could accidentally drown.

McBride said she bred boxers and miniature dachshunds in Tulsa, although she did not have a license to do so. There are also no records of McBride holding a veterinary technician license in Maine or in Oklahoma, according to licensing authorities in both states.

According to court records, state humane agent Danielle Jersey was told by authorities in Tulsa that McBride was investigated there at least twice by animal control, was cited once in 2013 for having too many dogs, and was cited five times for having more than five unspayed female dogs. The city of Tulsa prohibits possession of unspayed dogs or cats over the age of 4 months, and restricts the number of dogs anyone may own to three.

In Maine, breeding kennels are regulated and licensed by the state. Licensees are required to pay an annual fee and pass at least one inspection to ensure the facility meets minimum standards.

According to court records, McBride relied on the sale of puppies to supplement her income.

McBride’s mother, although nearly blind and hard of hearing, defended her daughter and cast doubt on the judgment of veterinarians who said the animals needed help or were riddled with parasites.

“I got her into this mess,” Higgins said. “We were trying to make it through to spring until she could build a kennel. The dogs are all healthy.”

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

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