Bess, a Great Dane, and Henry, a Catahoula Leopard hound, are owned by Ellen Berube. She was finally able to adopt Bess last week after fostering her for more than 18 months. Credit: Courtesy of Ellen Berube

A woman in Scarborough has finally been able to adopt a Great Dane whose pregnant mother was seized from a Hampden breeder nearly two years ago, in January 2020.

Ellen Berube, 31, and her partner, Sylas Hatch, 32, had fostered Bess since she was three months old but had not been able to adopt her until the former owner agreed to surrender Bess and 24 Great Danes to the state.

That finally happened on Nov. 23, when Jill Schnedler agreed to surrender ownership of the animals, and criminal charges related to allegations that she didn’t provide the animals with clean shelter or sufficient food, water and medical treatment were dropped.

Not knowing whether Schnedler, who had steadfastly refused to surrender the animals, would give up Bess and the other dogs over the 18 months Berube raised her was stressful, she said.

The foster family also could not post photos of Bess on social media or explain the circumstances surrounding her birth because she and the other dogs were considered to be evidence in a court case. Bess also could not go to day care with their other dog Henry, a Catahoula Leopard hound.

During the time the couple was fostering Bess, they moved from an apartment in Portland’s East End to a house in Scarborough.

“Always knowing that she might go back into Jill’s custody definitely weighed on me,” Berube said. “I hadn’t realized how much until I drove to Bangor for the court hearing and when it was over, I broke into tears.”

Berube volunteers at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland in Westbrook, where three of the seized Great Danes, one male and two pregnant females, were taken by Maine’s Animal Welfare program. The state program uses shelters around the state to help care for seized animals.

Berube, who has fostered about 20 puppies for the Westbrook shelter, didn’t hesitate when asked to care for a dog that would grow to weigh more than she does.

Bess (right), a Great Dane, was about the size of 50-pound Henry, a Catahoula Leopard hound as a puppy in summer 2020. Now she is full grown and weighs 135 pounds. She was finally adopted by Ellen Berube last week after nearly two years in legal limbo. Credit: Courtesy of Ellen Berube

“I’ve always been in love with Great Danes, so I jumped at the chance,” she said.

Finding people like Berube to foster a puppy, even a Great Dane, is not as difficult as finding someone willing and able to take a pregnant dog and deal with a newborn litter, according to Jeana Roth, director of community engagement.

“We took in three dogs, and that quickly turned into 11,” Roth said.

Some of the adult dogs needed special care as a result of inbreeding, she said. Some need special diets due to food allergies, others have skin problems and at least one is deaf.

Berube said that Bess, who has been fixed, does not appear to have any of those problems but her coloring is unusual for a Great Dane, which comes in a variety of colors recognized by the American Kennel Club. 

“Bess is almost all white with blue eyes,” Berube said. “She’s very lucky to have been born into foster care.”

At 135 pounds, Bess now outweighs her owner and is a bit timid around strangers, Berube said.

All of the dogs seized from Schnedler have been adopted, according to Liam Hughes, the state’s director of animal welfare. The cost to the state for having to keep them for so long totaled $125,000 but Schnedler was not ordered to pay restitution.

Shelters receive $5 per day to care for seized animals, which does not cover their cost.

“I hope the public is as happy as we are about the outcome of this case,” Berube said.

Bess will turn two on Feb. 11, 2022.