J’aime Kennels was a puppy mill located in a remote corner of Buxton, Maine, a town about 14 miles west of the city of Portland. The mill sold dogs directly to the public, both face-to-face and through about a dozen different websites. J’aime Kennels was owned, run, and lived on by John and Heidi Frasca, a couple in their mid-fifties who had a history of running a similar operation in Massachusetts.
Over the years, the State of Maine Animal Welfare Program (AWP)—an office under the Maine Department of Agriculture that oversees and enforces the state’s animal welfare laws—had compiled a hefty file of consumer complaints against J’aime Kennels. The business did have an operating license and was subject to annual inspections, which they barely passed. At first, the State tried to work with the owners to remedy various disease and husbandry issues, but there were continual relapses. Feeling persecuted and refusing to accept responsibility for the numerous violations found in their kennel, the Frascas eventually barred inspectors from entering their property. As complaints from buyers of sick puppies continued to pile up, the State obtained a search warrant and prepared to raid J’aime Kennels.
One of the many poorly cared-for Australian Shepherd pups rescued from J’aime Kennels
On August 20, 2007, AWP, with assistance from the Buxton Police Department, the Maine Animal Welfare Society in West Kennebunk (AWS), ARL and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), raided J’aime Kennels and seized more than 200 animals. The Frascas were issued 14 summonses for an unlicensed kennel, two summonses for animal cruelty and one summons for failing to provide necessary medical treatment to animals. The raid proved to be the largest in Maine’s history.
While fewer than 250 dogs were rescued from the site, in the weeks following the raid at least one litter of puppies was born every day—and by September 10, almost 100 puppies had been born to the seized breeder dogs. The final head count of animals from the J’aime Kennels raid was 368 dogs, two birds, two rabbits, one horse, a steer and assorted reptiles. The most prevalent breeds of dog were Miniature Australian Shepherds and Shetland Sheepdogs. There were also many American Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Papillons, Pugs, Toy Poodles, German Shepherds and Brussels Griffons.
American Bulldogs Tia and baby Eli
American Bulldog mom and her puppies
As with most puppy mill raids, the animals could not be moved from the Frascas’s property right away—first, a judge would have to legally transfer ownership of the animals to either the State or a qualified third party (such as one of the rescue groups). Animal care experts from AWS, ARL, HSUS and the ASPCA, as well as many local volunteers, spent the next three months in Buxton socializing the animals and nursing them to health. Sarcoptic mange, giardia and coccidia were rampant, so all the animals were put on medical treatment plans. A daily staff of 25 was required to adequately clean and care for the animals.
The ASPCA kicked in personnel and financial help immediately after the raid. Our Field Investigations and Response Team aided in the design and construction of an improved temporary shelter and created procedures for care, feeding, sanitation and disease control. We also reached out to New England animal shelters to secure shelter space in anticipation of the animals’ eventual move, enlisted the help of regional veterinary technicians, organized volunteers and established volunteer protocols. Dr. Melinda Merck, ASPCA Senior Director of Veterinary Forensics, offered advice and assistance to the State of Maine on gathering evidence and prosecuting the case. And finally, ASPCA National Outreach issued grants of $2,500 each to ARL and AWS, the two lead agencies involved, to help ease the financial strain created by tending to so many animals.
Irish Wolfhound and American Bulldog
A young Shih-Poo
On November 14—almost three months after the raid—an arrest warrant was issued for John Frasca after he failed to show up in Biddeford District Court to answer 25 charges of animal cruelty. On November 15, one of the judges in the seizure case signed paperwork giving ownership of the J’aime animals to the State. This meant that ARL and AWS were finally able to move the 300-plus animals off-site and prepare them for adoption. More than 250 dogs were moved to a newly constructed emergency shelter located at Happy Tails, a Portland canine boarding and day care facility.
The Frascas were on the run, but there were now warrants out on both John and Heidi. Their 20-acre property was seized by their bank (and it was later auctioned off to a housing developer).
In June 2009, John and Heidi Frasca were finally caught and arrested in Massachusetts. They were jailed, then extradited to Maine, where in August 2009 they each pleaded not guilty to 25 counts of animal cruelty.
A scheduled 2009 trial was postponed to give the Frascas's new court-appointed attorneys time to review the cases. The Frascas are scheduled to appear in court on February 24, 2011, to meet with the district attorney. Any trial proceedings will begin after that meeting.
Meanwhile, the Frascas's case has inspired change in Maine. While prosecuting the couple, York County District Attorney Mark Lawrence found that Maine animal cruelty laws lacked teeth and made large-scale cruelty cases extremely difficult and expensive to prosecute. He suggested a bill that would make certain animal cruelty crimes more serious, toughen penalties for less serious animal cruelty crimes, and entitle the state to be reimbursed for relocating animals. Sponsored by State Senator Deborah Simpson, D-Androscoggin, An Act to Strengthen the laws Against Cruelty to Animals was signed March 31, 2010. Thanks to the state's legislature, Maine is now a safer, better place for animals.
Hugh Hefner, a geriatric Papillon who likely fathered many of the Papillons at J’aime Kennels, was eventually adopted by a volunteer.
To learn more about the puppy mill industry, visit our Puppy Mill section.