Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday he had granted a pardon to a Winslow dog ordered by a court to be euthanized following a deadly attack on another dog last year, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether the governor’s unusual action carried legal authority or is symbolic.

Dakota, a 4-year-old husky, was ordered euthanized by Augusta District Court this winter after escaping confinement and for the second time attacking a dog belonging to a neighbor. The dog’s newest owner has filed for an injunction with the court to suspend the ordered euthanization.

Meanwhile, the Humane Society Waterville Area, which is housing Dakota, said the dog is a “model animal” and is playful, not vicious. The dog’s owner said Dakota’s previous owner mistreated her.

A member of the humane society’s board told LePage about Dakota, and the governor said in an unusual news release Thursday that he had reviewed the facts of the Winslow dog case “and I believe the dog ought to be provided a full and free pardon.” LePage signed a “warrant of full and free pardon,” dated Thursday.

Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said she never has encountered a pardoning of an animal before. The district court will look closely at Article V, Section 11 of the Maine Constitution, which deals with the executive power to pardon. That section says the governor “shall have the power to remit after conviction all forfeitures and penalties, and to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons,” while never saying explicitly whether such action applies to a human or an animal. There are restrictions and limitations “as may be deemed proper, subject to such regulations as may be provided by law, relative to the manner of applying for pardons.”

Maloney said the courts ultimately will decide whether the governor’s pardon has clout and can overrule the order that the dog be put down. “It will be up to the court to interpret that language and to determine what that means in relation to the case,” Maloney said.

Maine hasn’t had a death penalty since the 1880s, though people have petitioned Maine governors for pardons or commutations of prison sentences.

Jessica Lundgren, a reference librarian at the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library, said she is unaware of any comprehensive list of pardons from Maine governors. There are no news articles in the law library’s archives about a Maine governor pardoning an animal. But a state legislator did once seek a pardon for a bull mastiff in 1984, according to a UPI article.

TWO ATTACKS

Dakota was declared a dangerous dog by the town after getting loose and killing a smaller dog in February 2016, according to Winslow Animal Control Officer Chris Martinez.

The dog’s owner at the time, Matthew Perry, had been ordered to keep her confined or on a short leash.

In January, Dakota got loose again and went to the previous victim’s home, attacking the family’s new dog, according to Maloney. Dakota reportedly had the Pekinese dog in her mouth by the neck, Maloney said.

“The victims in this case have been through so much,” she said, adding that as a dog owner herself she can “only imagine” how it must have felt to lose one pet and then see another attacked.

Dakota then came under someone else’s care in February and got loose again. Dakota was picked up as a stray and taken to the Waterville shelter, which reportedly wasn’t made aware of the second offense at the time.

On Feb. 18, the shelter was told it could find the dog a new home, according to Humane Society Director Lisa Smith, as long as the new owner could keep her confined. In a letter to the District Attorney’s Office, Smith said the Humane Society acted “in good faith” based on the information it received from an assistant district attorney through the animal control officer.

Smith said in an interview that while she didn’t get written confirmation from the District Attorney’s Office, the shelter had two conversations with the animal control officer to confirm that the dog could be put up for adopted. Dakota was adopted on March 18.

Maloney denies the claim that her office ever approved the dog’s adoption, saying the state didn’t know Dakota got a new owner. The dog’s adoption was a “surprise,” she said.

The case for the second offense went to court March 21 with Perry, who no longer owned the dog. The judge ordered the dog to be euthanized.

VICIOUS OR NOT?

Smith — and now the governor — said the new owners have not been given due process because they never had a chance to be heard in court.

“We have determined this dog was not placed with a responsible owner initially and see no potential threats in this placement situation,” Smith said in her letter. In an interview, she added that Dakota’s new owners “are able to abide by the restrictions” that the dog be confined or on a short leash.

Once the state learned of the new owners, Maloney said, a public hearing was scheduled to give them a chance to be heard.

Dakota’s new owner, Linda Janeski, of Winslow, said her daughter and her then-partner used to own the dog. When they broke up, Dakota stayed with Perry, who she alleged would lock Dakota in the basement to kill rats.

When the neighbor’s dog would climb under the fence, Dakota, who was “trained” to kill rats, would react aggressively to the smaller animal, Janeski said.

Perry then gave Dakota to someone in Oakland, who also did not treat her well, Janeski said. She found Dakota at the shelter and agreed to follow “all of the stipulations” the animal control officer ordered. Janeski said Dakota is “the most mild dog” and has not shown aggression since her adoption, even to a 1-year-old she did not know.

Martinez, the animal control officer, summoned the owners and ordered them to have Dakota euthanized within 48 hours to comply with the court order. Martinez did not return a message immediately Thursday seeking comment on the governor’s pardon.

“We didn’t even have her a week when they were banging on my door to euthanize her,” Janeski said.

Martinez learned the dog was still alive after 48 hours, so he issued a search warrant at the owner’s residence on Heywood Road to seize the dog.

“When they came and took her away from us, there were three police officers, animal control, and she never barked, she never growled at anyone,” Janeski said. “There’s not a vicious bone in that dog’s body.”

Janeski filed for an injunction with the court to suspend the ordered euthanization. Dakota has been staying at the Waterville animal shelter since then.

Janeski said she is grateful to the governor for what he is doing. Smith said in an interview that they “haven’t found anything that’s concerning” about Dakota.

“While she has been here at the Humane Society, she has been extremely easy to handle,” she said. The shelter staff used a test called the SAFER aggression assessment, which evaluates the “probability of canine aggression in individual dogs.” Dakota also was exposed to other dogs in the shelter, including a 9-month-old, and has played well with them, Smith said.

Smith said society should look more closely at how it distributes punishments. She would like to see stiffer punishments for owners, she said, because often the root of the problem is that people who shouldn’t have pets do have them. Animals seem to bear the “brunt of the punishment” for owners’ irresponsibility or uneducated choices.

“People can know the laws and choose to abide by them or not,” Smith said. “It’s hard for a dog to know human laws.”

PARDON PRECEDENT

In his news release Thursday, LePage compared his action to the president’s annual “pardoning” of a turkey in November. U.S. presidents have been pardoning turkeys around Thanksgiving for decades, but the tradition is not actually an official action, but rather a symbol of good cheer.

LePage also said his pardon of Dakota was announced “in an effort to shed light on the case.”

It’s unclear whether the governor has the legal authority to pardon a dog or whether it’s been done before.

A state legislator did once seek a pardon for a bull mastiff in 1984, according to a UPI article. The dog, named Tucker, attacked a neighbor’s poodle in Augusta and mauled it to death. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld a decision that ordered the dog be euthanized.

Rep. Patrick Paradis, D-Augusta, said if he couldn’t find a legal remedy for the issue, he would ask the governor at the time, Joseph Brennan, to pardon him. The dog was later kidnapped by the National Doggie Liberation Front two days before he was due to be euthanized, appearing on national television to make his case.

One of the most famous instances of a dog escaping execution was in New Jersey in 1991. Taro, a Japanese Akita, was ordered euthanized after biting a 10-year-old. While Taro’s owner appealed the order, the dog was kept in jail along with the sheriff’s police dog. Local and state courts upheld the original decision, according to a law journal article, “The Historical and Contemporary Prosecution and Punishment of Animals.”

However, in 1994, then-Gov. Christine Todd Whitman issued an executive order that lifted the forfeiture order allowing Taro’s confinement. Taro was set free but could not stay in New Jersey and had to receive a new guardian.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

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Twitter: @madelinestamour