While talking to Sen. Lois Snowe-Mello for my Down East column this week, I was surprised when she strongly denied having opposed the actions of the Animal Welfare Program in rescuing animals from the J'amie Kennel in Buxton.
"I was repeating the words that someone else said at a meeting. The newspaper took it and completely distorted it," she said.
She also stated that she has always been "absolutely opposed to puppy mills that abuse animals" and that she was not backing the Buxton kennel owners and had never done so.
I asked her to repeat her comments to verify my notes and she confirmed those statements explicitly.
My surprise arose from the fact that the Sun Journal article was very thorough in laying out her apparent position at the time. The quote that has received the most attention was her remark accusing the Animal Welfare folks of using "Gestapo methods" (The Sun Journal even wrote an editorial about it, invoking Godwin's law on her Nazi analogy), but the article contained several other quotes from Snowe-Mello as well.
State officials said many of the dogs [seized from the Buxton kennel] have sarcoptic mange and giardia, an intestinal parasite. A lot of the animals remain at the kennel and are being cared for by volunteers.
Snowe-Mello said she went to the Frascas' kennel after the seizure and was stunned to encounter animal workers without protective clothing, even though officials have said the dogs are sick and contagious. The Animal Welfare Program, she said, doesn't appear to be open and honest.
"Frankly, I'm afraid of this department. Very afraid," Snowe-Mello said.
She wants an investigation into the Animal Welfare Program and clearer rules and regulations "so people know where they stand." In the meantime, she plans to work with other lawmakers to submit emergency legislation to amend the new amendments.
She urged breeders, farmers and pet owners to organize in support.
"Everyone make noise," she said. "But be respectful."
The journalist who wrote the article, Lindsay Tice, was very helpful when I asked about this contradiction. She pointed me towards a letter to the editor that Snowe-Mello wrote after the editorial was published in which the senator stated that the paper had taken her quotes out of context, but did not explain in what context her "Gestapo" quote or her other statements backing the kennel were meant to be taken.
Tice was also unequivocal about the events described in her article, writing:
I completely stand by my story and maintain Sen. Snowe-Mello was not misquoted and her quotes were in no way taken out of context. Throughout the meeting, she consistently opposed animal welfare officials' actions in Buxton. She said what the article quotes her as saying.
A veteran legislator is claiming one thing. The best newspaper in the state is claiming the opposite. Someone is wrong.
As for the puppy mill case itself, the dogs have been offered up for adoption, the kennel has been seized and sold at auction, and the owners are wanted fugitives. The rescue operation was the largest such action in Maine history.