Is Maine too soft on vicious dogs?

Posted April 17, 2017, at 4:46 p.m.
Last modified April 18, 2017, at 7:42 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Before the husky named Dakota started making headlines, Maine Welfare Advisory Council was already planning to advise the Legislature on whether Maine’s “dangerous dog” law should be tougher.

The council is set to take up the issue at its April 27 meeting at the State House complex in Augusta, according to Rep. Catherine Nadeau, D-Winslow, a council member who argues the state is not doing enough to protect its residents and their pets from vicious dogs.

Maine’s Animal Welfare Act defines a “dangerous dog” as one that bites an individual or domestic animal that is not trespassing on the dog’s owner’s premises or a dog that causes fear of “imminent bodily injury” to a person or domestic animal not on the dog’s premises who is “acting in a reasonable and nonaggressive manner.”

Nadeau said she has introduced LD 858, An Act to Strengthen the Law Regarding Dangerous Dogs, on behalf of a constituent, Sharron Carey of Winslow, who was attacked by two pit bulls in August 2016 while walking her own dog. Carey was injured, and her Boston terrier died as a result of the attack. The fate of the pit bulls is still under review.

Nadeau said a second motive for her bill was the June 2016 attack in which a 7-year-old Bangor boy was killed by a pit bull in Corinna. That dog was euthanized.

“This is not based on any breed. Taking the life of another animal or taking the life of a child, that’s what this is about,” Nadeau said. “I think we can do better.”

Gov. Paul LePage made national news on March 31 when he issued a pardon to Dakota, a husky who had twice attacked smaller dogs, killing one of them, and who had been ordered to be euthanized. The dog, which was adopted by a new owner after the attacks, narrowly avoided euthanasia last week after a Waterville District Court judge upheld its death sentence. Dakota’s current and past owners are appealing to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in a bid to save the dog’s life.

Consideration of Nadeau’s bill has been delayed until 2018 so the Animal Welfare Advisory Council can weigh in on whether law on dangerous dogs should be strengthened. Nadeau’s proposal would give law enforcement or animal control officers authority to seize a dangerous dog and would bar courts from allowing an owner to keep a dangerous dog. The bill would require that a dangerous dog be either confined at a governmental or humane society facility or be put to death. It would also add to Maine’s existing law requiring euthanization of dogs who inflict “serious bodily injury” on a human by expanding that requirement to dogs who injure domesticated animals.

Nadeau said she is also in favor of requiring signs to alert the public about potentially dangerous dogs. “People need to be aware when there is a dangerous dog around,” she said.

The Animal Welfare Advisory Council was created by the Legislature to advise the commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry on animal welfare issues. Its 14 members are appointed by the governor, usually from animal care or oversight organizations.

 

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