Mary Magdalene Root, 81, who lives near Havre de Grace, was jailed on $2,500 bail Wednesday on seven counts of allegedly letting her dogs run at-large a year ago.
Root was kept overnight Wednesday at Harford County Detention Center and was released after posting bail Thursday morning, according to court records.
Root is charged with failing to pay seven $75 civil citations for three incidents on Feb. 13, 2013, March 1, 2013 and March 10, 2013 in which her dogs – a tan terrier mix and a black and tan Chihuahua – were loose near her home, in the 4100 block of Oak Drive, according to charging documents.
Root, who was present through a closed-circuit TV hookup from the Harford County Detention Center, had a bail hearing before Harford County District Court Judge Mimi Cooper in Bel Air Wednesday afternoon. Court records show Root's arrest was processed earlier Wednesday.
Tatiana David, of the public defender's office, who represented Root at the hearing, asked the judge to release Root on her own recognizance, since Root had no prior convictions and needed to deal with her failing health.
Cooper, however, ordered that Root be held in lieu of $2,500 bail and, if she posted bond and was released, to have no animals on her property. Root was released from jail early Thursday morning after a person family members characterized as a "stranger" paid the required 10 percent of her bail, $250. Vantina Gifford, 52, of Charlestown, said her mother is resting at her home in Cecil County and brought the dogs with her.
The family is looking for homes for some of the dogs, and Gifford said her mother plans to return to court to fight the charges.
David told the court Wednesday that Root suffers from several conditions, including chest pain, hypodemia, poor leg circulation and damage related to chemotherapy.
Root has lived in Maryland her entire life and at her current residence on Oak Drive for 40 years, David said. She said Root is a widow and had four children, two of whom have died. Root was valedictorian from high school and worked at the Fort Detrick Army installation in Frederick and the Aberdeen Proving Ground Ordinance Center and School before retiring.
According to court records, the county issued a warrant for Root's arrest on Feb. 12 after she failed to appear for a court hearing in November for the civil citations.
David said Root suffered a great deal of stress upon finding out about the warrant and was admitted to Harford Memorial Hospital on Valentine's Day.
According to charging documents, one of Root's neighbors on U Way "was able to take photos of the dog being loose and off of their property" on the dates listed in the citations. There were five citations issued for Feb. 16, 2013, and one each for the other two dates.
Root was given 30 days to pay the citations, but failed to do so, the charging documents state.
An assistant state's attorney said he was "not opposed to releasing Root on her own recognizance" but he noted Root has another pending case for dog-related charges.
According to court documents, Root is also charged with one count of dog at-large and four counts dog license and term of license violations dating from last May 8. She has a trial date scheduled in April.
"I love those animals," Root told Cooper. "I take really good care of those animals."
A person who answered the phone Wednesday at Harford County Animal Control Services said the agency could not release any information about Root's civil citations.
Harford State's Attorney Joseph Cassilly, who filed the criminal information against Root on the earlier citations, said Wednesday evening he did not have the case file available and couldn't comment on the specifics of the charges.
Just an animal lover
According to Root's daughter, her mother is just an animal lover. She said her mom has owned several animals including dogs, an iguana and snakes over the years. Gifford and another daughter, who declined to give her name, attended Wednesday's bail hearing.
"She's very passionate about her animals," Gifford said following the hearing. "They do get out, but they don't hurt anybody. They have never attacked, never bitten, tore up property or defecated on anyone's property."
Gifford said her mother lives on more than 1-1/2 acres in a semi-rural area known as Webster Village, a few miles northwest of Havre de Grace. She said her mother's property is fenced around, but occasionally someone makes a mistake and leaves the gates open.
According to Gifford, one of Root's longtime neighbors takes photos of the dogs, when they get loose, and sends the photos to the animal control.
"My mom has gotten other violations over the years, but these seven, she just couldn't pay," Gifford said. "She is on a fixed income."