September 11, 2013

Fairfield man pleads not guilty to animal cruelty

By Rachel Ohm
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN -- A Fairfield man accused of causing the death of his dog, Bella, after dragging it along a road for miles in extreme heat pleaded not guilty in court Wednesday.

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James Wiggins

Contributed photo

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Bella, a mixed-breed dog, died after police said she was a victim of animal cruelty by her owner, James Wiggins, of Fairfield.

Contributed photo

James L. Wiggins, 43, is charged with class D cruelty to animals. He said he had no comment on his case Wednesday outside Skowhegan District Court.

Wiggins was arrested July 14 after Fairfield police received multiple reports of a man dragging a dog along Norridgewock Road on a humid day with temperatures in the upper 80s.

The dog, a 4-year-old mixed breed, was taken to Kennebec Veterinary Service in Oakland, where it later died of hyperthermia and complications related to heat exhaustion, according to veterinarian Paul Smith.

According to a statement from police after the arrest, there were multiple reports of a man who appeared to be intoxicated dragging his dog along the road although it appeared to be badly injured. Wiggins was waving his arms as he walked and eventually found a ride for himself and the dog, according to the report. Chief Tom Gould, of the Fairfield police, said onlookers followed the car to a home in Norridgewock and that when police arrived, they poured water on the dog to try to revive it.

The dog had signs of heat exhaustion, including dehydration and hyperthermia, as well as abrasions on its belly and paws. It was panting and couldn't lift its head when officers found it, according to the statement.

Gould said the department had at least six phone calls reporting the incident, including one from 24-year-old Chris Hartsock, of Fairfield, who said he pulled over to ask Wiggins if the dog was OK.

He said Wiggins dismissed him, then continued along the road, where a truck pulled over to pick Wiggins up. Hartsock said he saw Wiggins lift the dog into the cab by its leash.

"My first thought was that she had been hit by a car, because she could barely walk. It was awful," he said.

Wiggins was released on $1,000 cash bail and is scheduled to appear at 8:30 a.m. Nov. 20 in Skowhegan District Court. He received counsel Wednesday from the court's lawyer of the day, John Martin, and is filing paperwork for a court-appointed lawyer.

Rachel Ohm -- 612-2368

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