This dog was found last week abandoned in a closet in a Caribou house. Police have charged the dog's owner with animal cruelty. Credit: Courtesy of Caribou Police Department

CARIBOU, Maine — A Caribou man has been charged with animal cruelty after locking a dog inside a vacant home, police said.

Police identified Matthew Guzman, 31, as the dog’s owner. Guzman turned himself in to Caribou police Monday evening.

The new owners of a home on Belanger Road found the male, likely pitbull mix puppy locked inside a closet on Nov. 9. The dog was in dire need of food and medical care. The homeowners found the dog when they began renovating the home and called police. Law enforcement took it to the Central Aroostook Humane Society in Presque Isle to be cared for and began searching for its owner.

Police charged Guzman with animal cruelty, a misdemeaner for which he could receive up to 364 days in prison, a fine of no less than $500, and be banned from possessing any animals in the future, Caribou Police Chief Michael Gagahan said Tuesday.

“The dog is currently safe and being provided with the care he needs,” Gahagan said.

The humane society and the Maine animal welfare office provided assistance, and members of the public offered tips and help in caring for the dog, the chief said.

Officer Douglas Bell said last week police were following leads on two people who may have owned the dog. Both were suspected to be homeless and did not previously own the house.  

No one knew how old the dog was or how long it had been in the closet.

Luckily, the dog had not been abandoned long enough to cause a great deal of damage, said Coral Adams, main kennel technician at the Central Aroostook Humane Society. The animal is still in the shelter’s quarantine area.

“He is quite unsure of everybody and everything,” Adams said Tuesday. “He is underweight but not severely emaciated. He did go without food, but he wasn’t there long enough for it to cause any type of permanent damage.”

Shelter staff will keep working with the dog and caring for him, Adams said. No final decisions have been made about placement.