WATERVILLE — Local police chiefs say they doubt two dangerous dogs ordered by the court to be euthanized now are running loose in the area after their previous owner, Danielle Jones, told officials they escaped while she was walking them Tuesday afternoon outside an animal shelter.

One of those chiefs said he suspects the dogs’ disappearance was a “coordinated effort.”

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday a court order to euthanize the pit bulls declared dangerous because they had killed a Boston terrier, Fergie Rose, and seriously injured its owner, Sharron Carey, last year in Winslow. The dogs, Bentley and Kole, have been held at the Humane Society Waterville Area animal shelter on Webb Road.

Minutes after the Supreme Court decision Tuesday, Jones was walking the dogs near the shelter when, she says, the dogs escaped their leashes and ran off into the woods.

Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey, who is investigating the case, said he thinks if two pit bulls were wandering in the city, police would have received calls from the public by now.

“I find that to be very doubtful since we’ve gotten no calls,” Massey said Thursday morning.

Winslow police Chief Shawn O’Leary went so far as to say he believes the dogs were deliberately taken from the shelter’s care because the Supreme Court upheld a decision to euthanize them. O’Leary also said the incident has alarmed Winslow officials so much that they no longer will take animals to the Waterville shelter until changes are made at the facility.

“I don’t believe that they are loose, that they’re running through the woods,” O’Leary said of the dangerous dogs. “This was a coordinated effort.”

Asked if people found to be harboring the pit bulls would be charged criminally, Massey said it would depend on the circumstances. For instance, police would ask how they got the dogs and whether they knew there was a court order for the dogs to be euthanized when they received the dogs. If they answered “yes” to the questions, police would report that to the district attorney.

As to whether Jones would be charged if she were found to have the dogs, Massey said there is a special state statute that deals with violation of court orders, that this situation is unique, and the district attorney would be involved.

Michael Brown, president of the Humane Society Waterville Area’s board of directors, said Thursday that he is doing everything possible to help police investigate the case.

“At the end of the day, the public’s safety is our main concern,” Brown said. “We’re cooperating with all the people investigating the case in all ways possible, and our biggest concern is a safe resolution.”

Carey, the victim of the dog attack, has filed a civil lawsuit against Jones.

Jones said in a telephone interview Thursday morning from where she works, The Muddy Paw, on Bay Street in Winslow, that she was referring all calls to her lawyers and declined to comment on the missing pit bulls. She said she no longer owns The Muddy Paw.

Fergie Rose, a Boston terrier, was killed by two pit bulls that escaped from their yard in August 2016 in Winslow. The dogs that killed Fergie were ordered euthanized but got loose when they were taken for a walk Tuesday. Contributed photo

“There’s a lawsuit being brought against me by Sharron Carey, so I’m not at will to speak to anybody; but my lawyers should be able to talk to you,” said Jones, who on Thursday provided the Morning Sentinel with photos of the two dogs.

Her lawyer, Tom Page, did not return a call seeking comment. Jones’ other attorney, Bonnie Martinolich, also did not return a call.

Lisa Smith, executive director of the Humane Society Waterville Area, did not return calls placed Thursday morning to both her cellphone and the shelter, nor did she respond to an email. Smith also did not respond to a phone message or text sent Wednesday and was not at the shelter late Wednesday afternoon. A shelter official on Monday told the Morning Sentinel that Smith was away and would return Wednesday this week.

Brown said Smith was going to release a statement Thursday about the case, but that never happened.

Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney did not return an email immediately seeking comment about what her office’s role will be in the case, but Massey said once police determine where the dogs are, they will consult with the district attorney’s office.

“We’ll want to seize those dogs because the court ordered them euthanized and get them into a secure facility,” he said.

Massey said shelter officials knew Jones was walking the dogs Tuesday, and she had walked them on previous occasions. He said he did not know if Smith, the shelter’s executive director, was at the shelter that day.

It is not clear whether Jones knew about the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s decision to uphold the euthanization when she walked the dogs Tuesday. The high court issued its decision upholding the euthanasia order around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, and Jones took the two pit bulls for a walk near the Webb Road animal shelter between 12:30 and 1 p.m.

Danielle Jones kept her two currently missing pit bulls behind the fence that surrounds her home at 12 Lucille Ave., pictured here Thursday. Staff photo by David Leaming

Massey said police are continuing to try to find the pit bulls.

“Unfortunately, when we contacted their owner, who was the last one to see those dogs, she refused to talk to us,” Massey said. “That has made it difficult to locate the dogs.”

He said that if the dogs were running loose, the concern would be that they might hurt people or other animals.

NEIGHBORS’ VIEW

In the neighborhood around Lucille Avenue where the two pit bulls killed the other dog and injured its owner, some residents on Thursday afternoon said they were concerned, while others said the facts of the case may not be completely clear.

Most, however, said that the recent “escape” of the dogs was probably a calculated effort by their owner, Jones, who lives on Lucille Avenue.

On Aug. 30, 2016, Sharron Carey was walking her Boston terrier, Fergie Rose, down Lucille Avenue near her home when pit bulls Bentley and Kole broke free from their yard at 12 Lucille Ave. The pit bulls, a term used to encompass a variety of bull terriers but that is not a specific breed, attacked Carey and her dog. Fergie Rose died later that day and Carey was seriously injured.

Jones’ home is surrounded by a double fence that is supposed to contain the dogs. However, police previously told the Morning Sentinel that the dogs climbed up the first fence, breaking it, and then broke through the second fence, which wasn’t secured at the bottom.

Chris Rusnov, 65, said she didn’t even know the dogs existed until the attack last year. Rusnov lives on Bolduc Avenue, behind Lucille Avenue, close to Jones’ yard surrounded by the black fence.

Rusnov knows Carey, the woman who was attacked.

“I was pretty outraged at what happened,” she said. “To me, you don’t have dogs that are proven to be that sick. They shouldn’t be anywhere.”

Winslow resident Chris Rusnov, who knows the woman attacked by two pit bulls, believes the dogs’ disappearance was calculated and worries that someone else might be in danger now. Staff photo by David Leaming

Rusnov, like many others in the neighborhood, often takes walks, and she avoids walking near dogs that seem aggressive.

Another neighbor a few houses down from the site of the attack on Lucille Avenue said the owners should have euthanized the dogs on their own to be responsible, though she didn’t want to give her name.

“When I found out what happened, it made me sick,” she said. “We walked our dog to the corner over there all the time.”

Now the woman won’t walk her dog, which isn’t any bigger than Fergie Rose, near the site of the attack at all.

Winslow resident Gary Michaud hooks a leash Thursday to his dog Ripley at his home on Bolduc Avenue in Winslow. Michaud, who lives close to the home of Danielle Jones on Lucille Avenue, said he does not believe the dogs ran off on their own. Staff photo by David Leaming

Gary Michaud, 63, said the two pit bulls never bothered him or his own dog, a large mastiff mix named Ripley.

While the attack was “pretty bad,” he said, it didn’t affect him. He agrees with the law requiring euthanization “to an extent,” he said, but added that in this case “you really don’t know what happened.”

Both Michaud and Rusnov said they don’t believe the dogs, now missing, ran off on their own while on a walk with Jones at the Humane Society Waterville Area.

“She should not get away with doing this,” Rusnov said. “I think she was calculated.”

While the dogs don’t appear to be back in Winslow, Rusnov said their disappearance still concerns her. “That’s just scary. Someone else is in danger now.”

SHELTER CONCERNS

Meanwhile, Winslow officials have notified the shelter that they no longer will take animals to the shelter until changes are made there. O’Leary said from now on, animals will be taken to the shelter in Augusta, which will cost the town additional money and places an extra financial burden on Winslow.

He said it is the shelter’s responsibility to ensure the pit bulls, which are the property of the state, are euthanized per the court’s order.

O’Leary said further that the town of Winslow pays more than $10,000 a year to the animal shelter to take stray animals and deal with situations such as this, and it is the town’s position that the current shelter administration did not follow through on its contract.

This area behind the Humane Society Waterville Area is where dogs frequently are walked and penned outdoors by owners and volunteers. Danielle Jones, of Winslow, owner of two pit bull dogs that have been ordered to be euthanized, said the dogs escaped Tuesday while she was walking them. Staff file photo by David Leaming

“If the shelter leadership and the management does not change by next year, we’ll be going somewhere else, which is going to be a huge loss of funding for them,” O’Leary said. “As a trustee of the town, we don’t ask a lot. This is a unique situation that went through two long court hearings.”

Further, O’Leary said, a lot of police resources are being placed on a case that never should have developed, when they are otherwise dealing with more serious crimes.

O’Leary said Winslow police will help Waterville police with whatever they need to investigate the case. Winslow’s work was completed when the lower court ordered the dogs were dangerous and needed to be put down, he said, and then Jones appealed the case.

Brown, the humane society president, said he did not want to jeopardize the police investigation and referred questions about the incident to Massey.

Brown said he met Wednesday with both Massey and O’Leary about the case “to make sure we’re doing all we can to help them solve this.”

“They are investigating, so I’d be more than happy to speak with you once this is finalized,” Brown said. “I’d rather have it come from them right now.”

After a feline distemper outbreak occurred at the shelter earlier this month, killing more than three dozen cats and kittens, Brown said Humane Society officials were working to review all shelter policies and procedures to ensure best practices are being used there to make sure animals are safe. The shelter closed during the outbreak, on Oct. 1, and reopened this past weekend.

On Thursday morning, he reiterated that stance.

“We’re working internally around protocol and procedure,” Brown said. “Internally, we’re doing the best to make sure all our policies and procedures protect the public and our animals.”

Staff writer Madeline St. Amour contributed reporting.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17