AUGUSTA — A council that advises the state on issues related to the Animal Welfare Program began its year-long review of the state’s dangerous-dog laws at a meeting Thursday that highlighted frustration over being unable to hold dog owners accountable and early suggestions ranging from requiring signs and extra insurance.

The Animal Welfare Advisory Council, which met Thursday morning in the Burton M. Cross State Office Building, decided to review the laws after a series of high-profile cases that have raised concerns about the statute, which often places the burden of the punishment on the dogs.

The council plans to increase the responsibility placed on dog owners, as well as create a statewide database to house information about dog attacks, complaints and bites.

A bill proposed by Rep. Catherine Nadeau, D-Winslow, to amend the dangerous-dog laws prompted discussion about making changes, and a legislative committee voted to hold the bill until the next session so it could hear the recommendations from the council.

Liam Hughes, director of the Animal Welfare Program, said the law, as it’s written now, makes it difficult to hold the owners of dangerous dogs accountable.

“Over the past two to three years, there have been some extraordinary bite cases in places throughout the state where the law just does not meet the situation,” Hughes said. “The most difficult case I’ve worked on recently is the case in Corinna, where the child died.”

On June 4, 2016, Hunter Bragg, 7, of Bangor, was attacked and killed by a pit bull while playing in the yard of Gary Merchant in Corinna. Hunter’s father, Jason Bragg, lived in a camper on Merchant’s property at 207 Moody’s Mill Road.

Merchant, who owned the dog, had it euthanized.

Hughes said, “Even if the dog is euthanized immediately, the owner still has to be held accountable for what happens.”

The Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office has charged Merchant with illegal possession of a firearm after a search was conducted by the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office.

Councilor Garth Russell, who represents the animal control officers in the state, said he also wants to hold owners accountable. He also said he would like a way to identify potential problems.

Russell has investigated incidents in which a dog is aggressive but doesn’t warrant a dangerous dog charge, he said, but “I have some graphic pictures for what happens after that.”

Hughes said he plans to contact a national network of animal control officers to ask for examples of good and bad dangerous-dog laws. The law in Minnesota that addresses “potentially dangerous dogs” is one Maine could edit and adopt, he said.

“We don’t have to copy directly off of somebody else’s work, but we can use that to inspire us,” he said.

The council also discussed adding language that would specify provoked bites and is considering requiring signage and extra insurance for owners of dangerous dogs. Officers need the laws to be enforceable, Hughes said.

Personnel and resources to enforce dog laws vary across the state. Some animal control officers are paid $300 per year with no health insurance, Hughes said, while others get salaries from their municipalities.

Kathy Pollard, of Orono, spoke about what she went through a few years ago. Her 9-month-old Chesapeake Bay retriever, which had nearly finished therapy dog training, was attacked by a neighbor’s pit bull.

The retriever didn’t die, but Pollard eventually felt forced to euthanize it because it suffered brain injuries.

The pit bull had attacked three times before in Winterport, Pollard said, but was never declared a dangerous dog.

When Pollard complained about the dog, which continued to roam at large and threaten her dog, she said law enforcement failed to do anything.

“I see a problem in terms of the actual enforcement of the laws,” she said, adding, “There were failures all along the way.”

Hughes said this is something they have to look at, because people are “being held hostage” in their homes and yards by dogs that aren’t controlled by their owners.

The council might recommend extending an animal possession ban from the animal cruelty laws to the dangerous-dogs laws.

“Almost every single problem we have with dogs like that is at the other end of the leash,” Hughes said.

Russell agreed, saying that he often sees people who get dogs from friends and then “don’t do the right thing,” such as putting the dog through obedience training, socializing the dog with humans and other animals, or making sure it has all its shots.

The council considered requiring both the owner and the dangerous dog to go through obedience training after an offense.

“It’s a choice to own (a dog). I pay lots of money for the vet care of my dogs, but I choose to do this,” Russell said.

Another critical component the council addressed is the creation of a statewide database.

Currently, the state does not keep track of dog bites or attacks reported each year.

While all dangerous dogs are required to be microchipped, “it’s useless without a statewide database,” said Anne Del Borgo, a veterinarian who represents the Maine Veterinary Association.

The council plans to meet again in June to continue its discussion on revising the dangerous-dog laws.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour