Lewiston couple pleads guilty to animal cruelty in 64-pet seizure

Samantha Bell, right, and her fiance, Paul Lauze, listen to proceedings Tuesday in 8th District Court in Lewiston. (RUSS DILLINGHAM/SUN JOURNAL)

LEWISTON (Sun Journal) -- A Lewiston woman and her fiance have pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges two months after authorities seized 64 animals from their apartment.

The couple agreed to a lifetime ban on possessing animals, except for one dog and some aquatic animals.

Samantha Bell, 29, pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of animal cruelty. Three other counts and one charge of disorderly conduct were dismissed.

Bell was sentenced to 180 days in jail on each of the two counts, or 360 days total. All of that was suspended, and Bell will be on probation for two years.

Bell was also ordered to pay the Maine Animal Welfare Program $250 in restitution and to complete psychological counseling. She must submit to random searches of her home and car to ensure the safety of the one dog she's allowed to have.

Paul Lauze, 35, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of animal cruelty. He was sentenced to pay $250 in restitution and spend 14 days in jail, to be served at the same time as his sentence for violating probation.

Lauze is serving 90 days in jail for violating his two-year probation on an unrelated charge by getting charged with animal cruelty.

On March 1, animal welfare officials and police pulled 64 animals out of the fourth-floor apartment Bell and Lauze share at 116 Howe St.

The animals included 25 cats, four dogs and a number of pigeons, turtles, snakes, chinchillas, lizards and other pets. One of the dogs was an assistance animal that Bell said helps with her anxiety and alerts when she has a medical situation.

The Maine Animal Welfare Program said some of the pets needed immediate medical attention. Officials also found one dead animal.

Animal welfare officials spent three and a half years responding to complaints and working with Bell before deciding to take the animals.

Bell has said the animals were hers but Lauze helped her care for them. She's said she rescued most of the animals from neglect, abuse or other bad circumstances. Some she learned about through Craigslist, some she got from friends or acquaintances, others she adopted from a local animal shelter.

Bell has said she'd already realized 64 animals were too many and was in the process of finding homes for many of them when they were seized. She legally surrendered 37 of the animals after they were taken, but she said she wanted 27 back.

Bell has denied that any of her animals were neglected or mistreated.

Several animal shelters have been caring for the 64 animals since they were taken. Bell retrieved one of the pets — her assistance dog — this week. Under the plea, she will be allowed to keep him as long as he is the only dog she has.

The Animal Welfare Program is working with shelters to find homes for the remaining pets.

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