A statewide council is beginning a review of Maine’s dangerous-dog laws after a series of attacks in central Maine has drawn concerns about enforcement and animal rights, while an unprecedented “pardon” of a dog from Gov. Paul LePage has elevated awareness of the issues.
The Animal Welfare Advisory Council, which advises the commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry on issues related to the Animal Welfare Program, is tackling the project and plans to have recommendations ready for the next legislative session.
Rep. Catherine Nadeau, D-Winslow, also will be a part of process. A case in Winslow in which a dog was killed and its owner hurt prompted her to propose legislation to strengthen the laws.
The council is made up of stakeholders representing animal control officers, shelters, pet shops, the public, kennels, towns and advocates, as well as those with expertise in horses, livestock and animal welfare law.
“All the laws were pretty much made to deal with certain situations that arise,” said Liam Hughes, director of the Animal Welfare Program. However, not all situations match the laws, he said.
Hughes couldn’t give a specific example because most of the cases are still open.
However, he said that it’s difficult to prosecute the people who are responsible in these cases.
“Every community in Maine has an animal control officer that has a story” about a bite or attack that could have been remedied if the pet owner had taken responsibility for the dog, or had more education, he said.
The council’s first meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. April 27 at the Burton M. Cross State Office Building in Augusta.
Dakota made national headlines when LePage granted the dog a “full and free” pardon on March 30.
The 4-year-old husky was deemed a dangerous dog by the court in February 2016 when she killed a dog named Zoe in Waterville. In January, she went back to the same residence and attacked Zoe’s owners’ new dog, named Bruce Wayne, grabbing it by the neck, according to Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney. A District Court ruling on March 21 ordered that Dakota be euthanized for the repeat attack, but the dog’s owner has filed an appeal in the case, arguing that the governor’s pardon should dismiss the order, among other things.
A request for the reports filed at the time of the two incidents could not be fulfilled immediately, according to Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey.
Last August in Winslow, a woman was attacked by two pit bulls while walking her Boston terrier. The terrier died that day from its injuries and its owner, Sharron Carey, still is recovering from some of her injuries.
The court ordered that both dogs be euthanized for the attack, but the pit bulls’ owners, Danielle Jones and Brandon Ross, are appealing the order.
Earlier in June, a 7-year-old boy was attacked and killed by a pit bull while playing in a yard with two other children. Hunter Bragg of Bangor was at Gary Merchant’s home in Corinna when Merchant’s pit bull attacked. Merchant, who was related to Bragg, had the dog euthanized.
The Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office did not file any charges in the case.
There is no statewide record of dog bites and attacks in Maine, although Hughes said authorities hope to change that, so it’s not known whether these cases represent an increase for Maine.
Towns, however, do keep records of reported dog attacks.
Waterville, Winslow and Clinton combined had 31 dog bites or dog incidents in 2016, according to data from area Animal Control Officer Chris Martinez. Of those, 13 resulted in charges and two dogs have been euthanized.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about 4.5 million dog bites each year in the United States.
Madeline St. Amour can be contacted at 861-9239 or at: