Dakota the dog’s current owner has filed an appeal over the court-ordered euthanization of the canine, which has been deemed dangerous, adding her voice to the chorus of others — including Gov. Paul LePage — fighting the animal’s death sentence.
Meanwhile, LePage, who has issued a “full and free pardon” to the 4-year-old husky, who’s made national headlines, joked on talk radio Thursday morning that the original owner of the dog is the one who should be euthanized.
Matthew Perry, the original owner, said in an interview Thursday that the comments from LePage are “just screwed up.”
Perry thought the governor “was all right when he pardoned (Dakota),” but he said it’s messed up that LePage joked about euthanization.
“I’ve got a little line to live by: Be nice and kind to others, because you don’t know what people are going through,” he said. “And then to have your governor go out and say that?”
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court is expected to hear Dakota’s case eventually after a district court judge earlier this week ignored LePage’s “pardon” and ruled that the dog should be euthanized because it has been deemed a dangerous dog after two attacks on dogs at the same property.
Legal wrangling aside, the story of Dakota’s fate has traveled across the country and prompted sharp responses from animal-rights activists who defend the dog, while others who worry that a dangerous dog could be freed. The Morning Sentinel has received a number of emails and calls not only from Mainers, but also from people in Alabama and New York, offering to help in some way or adopt Dakota.
Not all of the options have been explored yet in Dakota’s case, according to Jeremy Cohen, the managing attorney at Boston Dog Lawyers in Beverly, Massachusetts, a law firm that specializes in animal law.
“Maybe at the end of the day, killing a dog is the right thing,” Cohen said, but the court should first look at whether specialists think the dog can be rehabilitated and if other restrictions, such as muzzle orders or medication, could solve the problem.
The question of whether LePage’s pardon will save the dog’s life still hangs in the air.
Dmitry Bam, an associate professor at the University of Maine School of Law, tends to think the Maine Constitution grants LePage fairly broad power for pardoning. It 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’s no clear-cut legal answer” in the case, Bam said Thursday, and “there really isn’t a case deciding this issue either in Maine or seemingly anywhere else in the country.”
Bam said the case is “fascinating,” though it also could raise important questions about the separation of powers.
“Anytime you have this possible tension between the order of the judiciary and the executive branch, it raises the question of whether the executive action is proper,” he said.
In her filing Wednesday in Augusta District Court, Linda Janeski, who now owns Dakota and lives in Winslow, says the court committed “legal error” in ordering March 21 that the dog be euthanized. She cites, in part, LePage’s pardon of the dog of March 30, as well as the court’s finding that Janeski lacks legal standing in the case.
The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and its Animal Welfare Program said in a news release Monday that agency officials were willing to offer assistance to the Maine District Court in Waterville with the case, if called upon.
Dakota was declared a dangerous dog in February 2016 when she got loose in Winslow and killed a smaller dog, according to Animal Control Officer Chris Martinez. Perry, her owner at the time, was ordered to keep her confined or on a short leash. However, Dakota got loose again this past January and went back to the same house, where she attacked the previous victims’ new dog.
Perry, who lives in Waterville, has filed a separate court appeal of the euthanization order and has denied prior allegations that he abused Dakota.
“I’ve always been very caring for her,” he said. “She’s been like my little daughter.”
When the euthanization order was handed down on March 21, Perry said he was “devastated” and didn’t know what to do.
Now he’s trying to remain positive as both he and Dakota’s current owner move through the appeals process. “I miss her,” he said of the dog.
Part of a fair hearing for the dog, Cohen said, is bringing in experts to speak about the circumstances of the attacks and the dog’s behavior.
Cohen founded his law firm representing pet owners and their rights two years ago, he said, and they handle about 120 cases per year. “The law hasn’t modernized with science,” he said. “I think we need the law to change when we see (pets) viewed as property.”
Cohen has had success with cases that have split the custody of pets.
“It’s something less than personhood … but it’s a special type of property,” he said.
Cohen also said he’s never seen a politician intervene as LePage has, but he welcomes the attention its brought to the issue. The national attention Dakota’s case has received, thanks in part to the governor’s pardon, is another win for animal law, he said.
“Pet law, animal law, needs a hero, and I respect the guy for stepping up,” he said of LePage. “Now, if he can support his decision with facts — even better.”
He does see a lot of “smaller heroes,” however. For example, in Rhode Island, Rep. Charlene Lima, D-Providence, introduced a bill that would require judges consider the “best interest” of a pet when awarding custody. The legislative committee has recommending holding it for further study.
“That’s a big step forward,” he said.
Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239