AUGUSTA, Maine — Seeking to save a once-violent husky named Dakota from a death sentence, Gov. Paul LePage issued a pardon on Thursday in an effort to spare the newly adopted dog, lining up against a judge’s order and the district attorney.
It was unclear on Thursday whether a Maine governor has ever pardoned an animal, but it’s the biggest legal case on a dog’s fate since 1984, when Tucker the bullmastiff was kidnapped from a cage by advocates after the state’s high court affirmed a ruling condemning him to death.
And while his office said it made the announcement “in an effort to shed light” on Dakota’s plight, Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney is reviewing LePage’s authority to issue a pardon here and a law professor said he may have the authority.
LePage’s office said he intervened after the case was brought to his attention by a board member of the Humane Society Waterville Area, which wrote a letter last week to Maloney pleading the dog’s case.
In a Thursday interview, Maloney said that Dakota attacked and killed a neighbor’s dog in 2016 while living with a Winslow man and was ordered by a judge to be confined. Soon after that, she said Dakota broke confinement and attacked a new dog owned by the same neighbor.
That led to Dakota being sentenced to euthanization by District Court Judge Valerie Stanfill on March 21. But before that, the ex-mother-in-law of Dakota’s original owner adopted the dog from the shelter — a move that Maloney said violated a court order that the dog be held there.
Maloney said Dakota is “clearly extremely dangerous” and that the dead dog’s family was in court to testify to the “horror” of that incident. She called euthanization “the correct decision.”
“I also think that if the governor could hear from the victim, he would see this case differently,” Maloney said. “He’s only heard from one side and hearing the victim’s story, it is chilling.”
However, the animal shelter argued that the new owners “have not been given due process” and weren’t aware of the March 21 ruling. Shelter workers said Dakota showed no aggression to dogs or people while at the shelter. An Augusta District Court hearing regarding Dakota’s fate is scheduled for Friday.
The Maine Constitution gives chief executives wide latitude to “grant reprieves, commutations and pardons” and species isn’t specified. Maloney, a Democrat, said her office is “researching” the Republican governor’s authority.
Dmitry Bam, a professor at the University of Maine School of Law in Portland, said that he didn’t find LePage’s action “problematic,” though he warned that he hadn’t examined precedent around what exactly a “pardon” or “commutation” entails. He said the Constitution gives the governor a wide berth and there’s “unlikely to be any litigant with standing” to challenge LePage’s action.
The Bangor Daily News asked the Maine Law and Legislative Library if past governors have pardoned animals. Librarian Alex Burnett responded to say “as you likely understand, this is very difficult to research.”
But he provided wire service reports on the case of Tucker, the Augusta bullmastiff who killed a neighbor’s poodle in 1982. His death sentence was upheld by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in 1984 and a then-state Rep. Patrick Paradis, D-Augusta, considered asking Gov. Joseph Brennan to pardon him.
Two days before his execution date, he was kidnapped from a Belgrade kennel by a group calling themselves “the National Doggie Liberation Front.” Tucker later appeared on a national TV special arranged by consumer advocate Ralph Nader.
His fate isn’t clear from published reports. But Paradis recalled “they kidnapped the dog and nothing was ever heard again.” He said “with age comes wisdom,” that he wouldn’t interfere with a court process again and wondered “why on God’s green earth” LePage would in this case.
“He never ceases to amaze me,” Paradis said.
BDN State House bureau chief Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.