The lives of two dogs from Winslow hang in the balance of a court appeal scheduled to be heard next month in Rumford, where the state’s highest court will be asked to consider the special role dogs play in the life of a family.

Their owner, Danielle Jones, 28, is asking the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, to overturn a euthanasia order issued by a district court judge following a civil, nonjury trial at the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta. The dogs escaped from their fenced-in yard in August 2016 and attacked a smaller dog, which died later at a veterinarian’s office.

Jones, through attorney Bonnie Martinolich, says the statute permitting forfeiture of the animals is criminal rather than civil, so there should have been a jury trial in which the state would have to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the dogs were dangerous.

“Pet dogs take on an added importance to families,” Martinolich said. “We are not discussing seizing and destroying someone’s car, television set or other inanimate object. The dangerous-dog statute requires that a family lose forever a beloved pet when only a minimal amount of evidence is provided.

“A family can never replace that dog. No two are the same.”

The case follows another high-profile dangerous-dog incident in central Maine that raised far-reaching legal questions. Dakota the husky, whose court-ordered death sentence had been in legal limbo after an appeal and a high-profile pardon from Maine’s governor, won a full reprieve in July from a euthanasia order stemming from deadly attacks in Waterville. That case, which also might have headed to the state Supreme Court if a compromise had not been reached, prompted questions about whether the governor’s power of pardon extended to animals and about the appropriate punishment for dogs deemed dangerous.

Legal experts say there’s evolving precedence under which animals are being treated less like property and more like people.

In the Winslow case before the Supreme Court, Jones is asking the euthanasia order be reversed. The dogs were ordered destroyed after Judge Eric Walker found Jones to have committed two civil violations for keeping dangerous dogs.

The state, through Assistant District Attorney Tracy DeVoll, maintains the judgment was proper and that the dogs should be euthanized for escaping from their fenced yard to attack a smaller dog being walked by owner Sharron Carey on Aug. 30, 2016, on Lucille Street. The smaller dog, 10-month-old Fergie Rose, died of injuries shortly afterward at a veterinarian’s office.

Last month, Carey filed a civil lawsuit in the same courthouse, seeking damages from Jones and her boyfriend, Brandon Ross, and from Danielle Doyon, the property owner, for the dog attack.

Jones’ two dogs, Bentley and Kole, both pit bulls — had been ordered confined previously.

In a verdict at the conclusion of the two-day trial, Walker refused Jones’ request to give her dogs another chance.

Jones had testified that she ran from the backyard through her house on Aug. 30 toward the sounds of screaming and barking in the front of the property. She saw Carey swinging, kicking and hitting Bentley and Kole on the head as they tugged and pulled at Fergie Rose, a Boston terrier.

Jones testified she got in the middle of the dogs and twice handed Fergie Rose back to Carey. The third time, Jones carried Fergie Rose to Jones’ own car before returning to get her dogs under control.

Two video surveillance cameras on Jones’ home captured images of Carey walking her dog, and Fergie Rose lunging toward the home, followed shortly afterward by Jones’ two pit bulls streaking across the lawn to reach them.

Walker, in concluding that Jones was in violation of a civil statute about keeping dangerous dogs, said that rather than the “dog fight” described by Jones’ trial attorney Charles Ferris, the case involved “an escape and a vicious attack on a much smaller dog where her owner was injured in an attempt to protect her dog.”

He said he found that Carey suffered serious bodily injury during the attack, and that Bentley and Kole were the same two dogs involved in a May 29, 2015, attack that injured a younger, smaller dog, during which Ross, a co-owner of Bentley and Kole, was bitten by one of his own dogs.

That led Walker to order the two dogs euthanized within 30 days.

Bentley and Kole remain at the Humane Society Waterville Area pending the resolution of the case.

The Law Court schedules arguments at various high schools at the invitation of local legislators and this case will be heard Oct. 13 at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford.

In the meantime, Carey’s civil lawsuit is pending in Kennebec County Superior Court against Jones, Ross and Danielle Doyon, of Waterville, owner of the home at 12 Lucille St.

Carey, through attorney Steven Blackwell, said that she suffered injuries to her hands, in particular to her left wrist, when the two dogs dragged her to the ground while tearing Fergie Rose from her arms.

Carey seeks compensation for her injuries and damages as well as medical and veterinary expenses.

The claim is brought under state statutes, one of which permits “reimbursement for damage done by animals.”

It says, in part, “when a dog injures a person who is not on the owner’s or keeper’s premises at the time of the injury, the owner or keeper of the dog is liable in a civil action to the person injured for the amount of the damages. Any fault on the part of the person injured may not reduce the damages recovered for physical injury to that person unless the court determines that the fault of the person injured exceeded the fault of the dog’s keeper or owner.”

The civil lawsuit describes the May 29, 2015, incident, saying Bentley and Kole escaped from a different fenced-in enclosure at Jones’ and Ross’s residence, then on Halifax Street in Winslow, and attacked a dog named Gage.

It says that because the dog owners were aware the animals were dangerous, they “were negligent in that they failed to construct and maintain a secure fence that would confine Kole and Bentley” at 12 Lucille St.

In Doyon’s response to the lawsuit, filed by attorney Paul Douglass, she says she lacks information about the allegations and alternatively says responsibility for the incident belongs to Jones and Ross.

Attorney Walter McKee, representing Jones and Ross, denies the allegations in the lawsuit and says that Carey “was comparatively negligent” and that the complaint fails to state a claim for “strict liability.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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