Gov. Paul LePage has created a new committee to review Maine’s animal cruelty laws and determine how the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry can better respond to cases of animal abuse.

LePage said in an executive order released Monday that the number of animal abuse investigations in Maine is increasing to the point that they are straining human and financial resources at the local, county and state levels.

The Committee to Review Maine Animal Cruelty Investigations would be separate from the Maine Animal Welfare Advisory Council, which already exists to advise the department on proposed revisions to animal protection laws, training of animal control officers, and funding to support the Animal Welfare Fund. LePage said in his executive order that administration of the program does not fall under the council’s purview.

LePage will choose the new nine-member committee, which will include two officials from the department, a county prosecutor, two veterinarians, an animal control officers, a representative of the Maine State Police, someone involved in animal sheltering, and a member of the Animal Welfare Advisory Council.

This marks LePage’s third executive order creating an advisory committee or task force since Jan. 18. Others are the Maine Highly Automated Vehicles Advisory Committee and the Maine Wind Energy Advisory Commission, which he created along with an order that certain new wind energy permits be delayed until the commission can complete a report on wind farms’ impact to Maine’s economy and environment.

The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry did not immediately respond questions from the Bangor Daily News on Monday afternoon about the increase in animal welfare investigations. However, the department has been busy. In December, it raided a Sorrento farm twice, seizing more than 110 animals of several species that were allegedly living in inhumane conditions.

Maine is known for having some of the toughest animal welfare laws in the country, with fine maximums up to $10,000, possible jail time and court orders that ban offenders from animal ownership. Animal Welfare Program director Liam Hughes told WCSH in March 2017 that his six agents are sometimes overburdened with cases and that it is difficult to coordinate efforts between counties and with the court system.

Nationally, experts say the majority of animal cruelty offenses end without trial or prosecution.

In 2017, LePage inserted himself into a controversial dispute about a husky named Dakota, which was ordered to be euthanized after it attacked and killed a smaller dog. It was Dakota’s second attack on a smaller dog in less than a year. LePage pardoned Dakota and a court ruled the dog’s life be spared, with certain conditions.

Left unanswered was whether the governor has the right to pardon an animal.

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Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.