RAYMOND – Julie Sutherland, the Raymond woman who made headlines last year when she rescued more than 25 roosters, setting off a public dispute with her neighbor, has been summonsed on a civil charge of animal abuse.
Sutherland, who said she is innocent of the charge, was served earlier this month by Animal Control Officer Bobby Silcott for not providing medical attention to a cat Sutherland was fostering for the Harvest Hills Animal Shelter in Fryeburg. The cat eventually died.
Silcott, who is the backup ACO for Raymond, is handling the matter for Raymond’s full-time ACO Susan Fielder since he said Fielder and Sutherland have “had a falling-out and there is some conflict there.” He wouldn’t provide details on the conflict.
Sutherland had taken possession of a 6-month-old, gray-and-white cat named BabyGirl and three of BabyGirl’s kittens in August of last year after BabyGirl was rescued from a cat hoarder in Casco. Sutherland said BabyGirl had multiple health issues when she received the cat and that she purchased and administered more than $200 worth of medication. Sutherland also said she brought the animal to a veterinarian in Windham in October.
Sutherland said BabyGirl was riddled with worms that eventually infected the cat’s brain, and despite Sutherland’s best efforts, the cat died in January.
While not willing to discuss details of the case since it’s still in litigation, Silcott said the charge against Sutherland is valid and merits the civil case, which will be heard Tuesday, April 16, in Cumberland County District Court.
There has been no affidavit filed in the case. Silcott said he is planning to meet with the district attorney to draft one in coming weeks. If convicted, Sutherland could face a minimum fine of $500 or a maximum fine of $2,500.
Asked why Sutherland, who is known to rescue all sorts of animals at her hobby farm on Ledge Hill Road, would abuse an animal she rescued, Silcott said, “I have to agree with you there, it is a little confusing. But there was enough evidence presented to the D.A. to move forward with it.”
Silcott said the issue arose when Sutherland failed to return the fostered cats to Harvest Hills at the end of an eight-week care period. Sutherland’s role was to help socialize the animals, he said.
“She refused to return the animals, and it was their property,” Silcott said. “Julie’s role in this was to be a foster, and she was supposed to foster the mother and kittens until they were 8 weeks old and then they’d be returned. After the eight weeks, she refused to return them.”
Sutherland said she shouldn’t be held liable for BabyGirl’s condition since the cat was in bad health when she received her after last summer’s cat-hoarding incident, in which about 70 cats were rescued from a home in Casco and temporarily sheltered at the former Casco Memorial elementary school on Route 11. Sutherland visited the shelter, and according to Harvest Hills’ executive director, Joan McBurnie, Sutherland was the only person BabyGirl, which McBurnie described as wild, would allow near her.
“She was known, I guess, as the Cat Whisperer,” McBurnie said of Sutherland. “She was the only one who could get near this one cat and her kittens.”
Sutherland says she brought the cats home and did the best she could to take care of the ailing BabyGirl. She cleaned her thoroughly, brushed her, bathed her eyes with tea bags, and gave her medication for worms and ear mites. She also said she has detailed records of her efforts at providing medical attention for BabyGirl, which she intends to present in court proving she provided medical attention.
“I’ve got all the records, I’ve got charts of everything I did with her,” Sutherland said.
Sutherland also says BabyGirl isn’t the only cat to die from last summer’s cat-hoarding incident in Casco after being fostered or adopted.
“I’ve heard that BabyGirl was between the seventh to 11th cat that has lost its life because they did not get medical care prior to going into somebody’s home,” she said.
Sutherland is also accused of violating a foster agreement with the shelter by not returning BabyGirl’s kittens to Harvest Hills at the end of the fostering period. When she failed to return the cats, McBurnie called police to retrieve the cats from Sutherland’s home. Sutherland refused to hand over the kittens when visited by a Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office deputy in October, saying she didn’t want to separate BabyGirl and the kittens. Sutherland also says she was under no formal obligation to return the cats, which she had grown attached to.
“There was no contract with Harvest Hills. I was approved for foster, that was it,” she said.
McBurnie confirmed the lack of a contract with Sutherland requiring the return of the cats and says the shelter’s board of directors has since tightened the language in their fostering agreement.
“I’ve been here 11 years. We’ve had lots of people take cats and their babies and never had a problem having them bring them back to us. She broke the mold. Subsequently that made us have to change our contract,” McBurnie said. “Our foster agreement at that time wasn’t clear, but verbally she knew. She knew she was fostering those kittens to socialize them to give them the best chance and then they could be readopted through Harvest Hills.”
Sutherland said her motivation to keep the kittens and adopt them out on her own via Facebook was because she thought Harvest Hills would kill the cats if she turned them over. McBurnie says Sutherland’s suspicions were baseless.
“When I approached her to tell her she couldn’t give them away, she wasn’t very nice. She was belligerent to me, told me I would never get the kittens,” McBurnie said. “For some reason, she thought if Harvest Hills got the kittens back we would just euthanize them. I don’t know why she thought that. The whole purpose of the foster care was to bring those kittens around. If they didn’t come around, we work with Friends of Feral Felines.”
Silcott said he rarely summonses people involved in foster care for not providing medical attention. He also said potential adopters or foster families shouldn’t worry about being charged with animal abuse if they follow Maine law regarding care of animals.
“If you’re responsible for an animal, it’s incumbent upon you to provide necessary shelter, sustenance and medical attention. These things are all required,” Silcott said. “As far as people wanting to foster rescue animals, I don’t think it’s anything for them to worry about as long as the animal is treated according to the law.”