Dakota, a 4-year-old husky condemned to death for killing another dog in Winslow, got a reprieve Thursday from Gov. Paul LePage, setting up a possible legal showdown over whether the governor’s ability to grant pardons extends to animals.

LePage intervened after being petitioned by a board member of the Humane Society Waterville Area. The governor issued a statement Thursday that said he had reviewed the facts of the case “and I believe the dog ought to be provided a full and free pardon.” He signed a “warrant of full and free pardon” dated Thursday.

Dakota was ordered euthanized by the Augusta District Court this winter after escaping confinement and attacking a neighbor’s dog for the second time. The first attack resulted in the death of the neighbor’s previous dog.

Linda Janeski, of Winslow, says she wasn’t aware of the euthanization order when she adopted Dakota from the Waterville shelter this month and has filed for an injunction with the court to suspend the order.

“We didn’t even have her a week when they were banging on my door to euthanize her,” said Janeski, whose daughter and her then-boyfriend owned Dakota when she attacked the neighbor’s dogs.

Winslow Animal Control Officer Chris Martinez summonsed Janeski and ordered her to have Dakota euthanized within 48 hours to comply with the court order. When Martinez learned the dog was still alive after 48 hours, he issued a search warrant at the owner’s residence on Heywood Road to seize the dog.

“When they came and took her away from us, there were three police officers, animal control, and she never barked, she never growled at anyone,” Janeski said. “There’s not a vicious bone in that dog’s body.”

Dakota has been staying at the Waterville animal shelter since then.

Martinez did not respond to a message Thursday seeking comment.

The Humane Society Waterville Area, which is housing Dakota, said the dog is a “model animal” and is playful, not vicious.

The shelter staff used a test called the SAFER aggression assessment, which evaluates the “probability of canine aggression in individual dogs.” Dakota also was exposed to other dogs in the shelter, including a 9-month-old, and has played well with them, said humane society Director Lisa Smith.

Janeski said Dakota was mistreated by her previous owners.

LePage’s action likely will prompt the District Court to review Article V, Section 11 of the Maine Constitution, which deals with the executive power to pardon.

That section says the governor “shall have the power to remit after conviction all forfeitures and penalties, and to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons,” while never saying explicitly whether such action applies to animals. There are restrictions and limitations “as may be deemed proper, subject to such regulations as may be provided by law, relative to the manner of applying for pardons.”

In his news release Thursday,
LePage compared his action to the president’s annual “pardoning” of a turkey each November. LePage also said his pardon of Dakota was announced “in an effort to shed light on the case.”

Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said the courts ultimately will decide whether the governor’s pardon can overrule the order that the dog be put down.

“It will be up to the court to interpret that language and to determine what that means in relation to the case,” Maloney said.

Maine hasn’t had a death penalty since the 1880s, though people have petitioned Maine governors for pardons or commutations of prison sentences.

There are no news articles in the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library archives about a Maine governor pardoning an animal. But a state legislator did seek a pardon for a bull mastiff in 1984, according to a news report at the time.

TWO ATTACKS, ONE IN WHICH A DOG DIED

Dakota was declared a dangerous dog by the town after getting loose and killing a smaller dog in February 2016, Martinez said.

Dakota’s owner at the time, Matthew Perry, was ordered to keep her confined or on a short leash.

Dakota got loose again in January and went back to the same home, attacking the family’s new dog, Maloney said. Dakota reportedly had the Pekinese by the neck, Maloney said.

“The victims in this case have been through so much,” she said.

Dakota then came under someone else’s care in February and got loose again. Dakota was picked up as a stray and taken to the Waterville shelter, which said it wasn’t made aware of the second offense at the time.

On Feb. 18, the shelter was told it could find the dog a new home, said Smith, the humane society director, as long as the new owner could keep her confined. In a letter to the District Attorney’s Office, Smith said the humane society acted “in good faith” based on the information it received from an assistant district attorney through the animal control officer.

Smith said in an interview that while she didn’t get written confirmation from the District Attorney’s Office, the shelter had two conversations with the animal control officer to confirm that the dog could be put up for adoption. Janeski adopted Dakota on March 18.

Maloney denies that her office ever approved the dog’s adoption, and said that it was a “surprise” to learn Dakota had a new owner.

The case for the second offense went to court March 21 and the judge ordered the dog to be euthanized.

‘HARD FOR A DOG TO KNOW HUMAN LAWS’

Smith – and now the governor – said Janeski has not been given due process because she never had a chance to be heard in court.

“We have determined this dog was not placed with a responsible owner initially and see no potential threats in this placement situation,” Smith said in her letter. In an interview, she added that Janeski is “able to abide by the restrictions” that the dog be confined or on a short leash.

Once the state learned Dakota had been adopted, a public hearing was scheduled to give Janeski a chance to be heard, Maloney said.

Janeski said her daughter and her then-partner used to own the dog. When they broke up, Dakota stayed with Perry, who Janeski said would lock Dakota in the basement to kill rats.

When the neighbor’s dog would climb under the fence, Dakota, who was “trained” to kill rats, would react aggressively toward the smaller animal, Janeski said.

Perry then gave Dakota to someone in Oakland, who also did not treat her well, Janeski said. She found Dakota at the shelter and agreed to follow “all of the stipulations” the animal control officer ordered. Janeski said Dakota is “the most mild dog” and has not shown aggression since her adoption.

Janeski said she is grateful to the governor for his intervention.

Smith said society should look more closely at how it distributes punishments. She would like to see stiffer punishments for owners, she said, because often the root of the problem is that people who shouldn’t have pets do have them. Animals seem to bear the “brunt of the punishment” for owners’ irresponsibility or uneducated choices.

“People can know the laws and choose to abide by them or not,” Smith said. “It’s hard for a dog to know human laws.”

Madeline St. Amour can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

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Twitter: @madelinestamour