May 3, 2013

Fate of Maine dogs who mauled girl under review

The decision hinges on prior complaints and whether a judge views the two pit bulls as dangerous to public safety.

By David Hench
Staff Writer

The fate of two pit bulls that attacked a 12-year-old girl in Lebanon on Saturday hinges on several factors.

click image to enlarge

Angel Sargent, 12, was attacked Saturday afternoon by two pit bulls at her home at 260 River Road in Lebanon. Photographed on Monday, April 29, 2013.

Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

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"It's on a case-by-case basis, and past history of biting would be a factor," said Kevin Upton, president of the Maine Animal Control Association. "It's not an automatic death sentence by any way, shape or form."

Police said the two dogs attacked the girl Saturday afternoon at the home where all three lived at 260 River Road, biting her shoulder and leg. A man who was visiting a neighbor ran to her rescue, fighting off the dogs until she could get to safety. He was bitten on the arm and leg.

The girl was released from the hospital on Sunday.

York County District Attorney Kathryn Slattery said prosecutors are looking at several factors to determine whether to bring criminal charges against the dogs' owner.

"We look at whether or not they had knowledge the dog was dangerous. ... If they knew the dog was dangerous, did they take the right precautions, whether there are any pre-existing (court) orders or prior problems," Slattery said.

When a child is bitten, prosecutors also would consider child-endangerment issues, she said.

There had been no prior complaints about the dogs, town officials said. They remain quarantined at the Animal Welfare Society shelter in West Kennebunk as officials determine whether they have rabies. Authorities said the dogs were behind on their shots.

By state law, dogs must be licensed and have rabies shots within 30 days of turning 6 months old. Police said the two dogs, named Jager and Meister after a German liquor, are 7 months old.

State law also requires that all dogs be kept under control. The law does allow owners to have their dogs under voice control if the dogs are obedient, but they are not allowed to run loose. Some municipalities have stricter leash laws, though Lebanon does not.

After an incident like the one Saturday, a court may decide whether the dogs are to be considered dangerous, and what restrictions should be imposed on how they are kept to ensure public safety, said Liam Hughes, the state's animal welfare director.

State law allows a person to file a complaint saying that a dog is dangerous if the dog bites or threatens someone when it is not on its own property, or if the person did nothing to provoke the dog.

A judge decides whether the dog should be classified as dangerous.

Keeping a dangerous dog -- which can be determined after an incident -- is a civil violation, like a speeding ticket. In some cases, courts have ordered dangerous dogs to be euthanized.

Hughes said the issue is not strictly about breed. Licensed dogs that have relationships with veterinarians and are raised around families and children are much less likely to be aggressive than dogs that are kept chained or penned outdoors with no license or relationship with a veterinarian.

"It doesn't matter what breed of dog it is -- any dog in that situation can turn out bad from that," Hughes said.

He said more information about the history of pit bulls and related breeds can be found at


David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:


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