SKOWHEGAN — Laura Plourde said she was devastated when state animal welfare officials and police on Wednesday searched her Skowhegan home and confiscated her four adult dogs, six puppies and six cats.

“They’re my babies,” said Plourde, 49. “I spent all day yesterday crying about it. I’m just waiting for a court date so I can try to get some of them back.”

Plourde answered the door Thursday afternoon at the old cape house where she lives at 36 Waterville Road in Skowhegan. Her grandson, Austin, 2, peered out of the glass door at the snowy yard.

Skowhegan police and officials from the state animal welfare program arrived at her house at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday and left around 1 p.m. Police said later that they saw multiple malnourished animals living in unsanitary conditions, with animal feces all over the walls and floors, though Plourde denies the part about the feces. She said they did not take Austin, her son Brett’s 2-year-old child, whom she was babysitting, so they could not have thought the conditions were unsanitary.

Brett Plourde

“My place is not as bad as they made it out to be,” she said. “The floors need to be mopped up because people come in and out. My dogs were underweight. I had switched dog food and none of them adjusted well, so I put them back on the other food and they were gaining weight and looking good.”

Police on Wednesday arrested Plourde’s son, Brett Plourde, 24, who lives in the house, on a probation violation in connection with the investigation, and he remains in Somerset County Jail.

Skowhegan police Chief David Bucknam said Wednesday that animal welfare agents were investigating a case involving dead dogs being dumped in the town of Canaan, though he did not know where, and their investigation led them to the house on Waterville Road in Skowhegan.

Asked what she knew about the dead dogs, Laura Plourde said she had five dead dogs that were taken to a friend’s uninhabited trailer in Canaan and placed inside until they could be buried in the spring.

“They have a pet cemetery and we’ll wait until spring and bury them in the pet cemetery,” she said. “Two died on Christmas. They just got sick and we thought it was worms. One of them had seizures. We didn’t know what happened. Three of the dogs, I got up one morning and the heater in the mud room malfunctioned and it smelled funny, like electrical, and the dogs were dead.”

“She put them in the trailer,” she said of her friend with the Canaan property. “Nobody lives there. That way, they won’t be disturbed.”

The animal welfare agents did not take her other pets from the house during the search, according to Plourde.

“I have a snake, rats and fish,” she said. “Nobody wanted to touch the snake, and the rats are food for the snake,” she said.

Plourde, who has lived in the house about two years and is in the process of buying it, says she suffers from Buerger’s disease, which causes bad circulation in her legs and blocks arteries.

“I’ve had, like, six surgeries,” she said.

A motorist passes the home at 36 Waterville Road in Skowhegan, where police and state animal welfare agents searched as part of an animal abuse investigation on Wednesday.

She added that she had been trying to find homes for some of her animals, as it has been difficult to care for them with her medical condition. The puppies were 8 weeks old, she said.

All of her dogs, including Sissy, who is blond-colored, were pit bull mixes, she said.

“I had her almost six years. She’s a big baby.”

Meanwhile, state animal welfare officials are processing evidence and making sure the cats and dogs taken from the home are getting appropriate care, according to Liam Hughes, director of the animal welfare program.

Hughes said Thursday that veterinarians were caring for the animals, which are being housed in an undisclosed location. He said he could not comment on the investigation.

“It’s still open right now,” he said. “We’re still interviewing people and processing everything that happened yesterday.”

The search took place at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday and officials left the house about 1 p.m.

Skowhegan police Deputy Chief Brian Gardiner was at the house during the search and said he saw multiple cages there.

Bucknam said Thursday that there was nothing new to report in the case and that state animal welfare officials are conducting the investigation.

“We’re just there to assist them,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hughes said that while he can not reveal information about the investigation, he could confirm the information Bucknam released Wednesday.

Hughes said the conditions in the house were deplorable, and the animals were in need of medical attention and sustenance — food and water.

He said once the investigation is complete, animal welfare officials will be in touch with the district attorney’s office to discuss potential charges.

Hughes said he wants people to know resources are available for animal owners who might feel overwhelmed, perhaps because of lifestyle changes that could include a job loss or death, and they might contact local animal shelters or animal control officers to get help. There are also programs to help people get their animals neutered or spayed, he said.

“If you need extra food or training resources, a lot of local shelters have that,” he said.

He said when searches such as this occur, it is sometimes the worst day in the lives of both the owners and the animals. Officials do not want to take animals away from people; they want to help them, he said. Animal welfare agents, some of whom are 10- or 15-year veterans, are top-notch and do good work, he said.

The number of cases in which animals are taken from people’s homes varies from year to year, according to Hughes.

“We do have similar cases like this, but sometimes we can get ahead of it before it becomes a big problem,” he said.

Agents worked quickly in the case of the Skowhegan animals.

“We got the right information and our staff was able to react quickly and able to move,” Hughes said.

A woman at the Somerset Animal Shelter in Skowhegan said Wednesday that the rescued animals were not there and she did not know where they were taken.

Hughes’ office is in the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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