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“Dangerous” Dog’s Death Sentence Stands Despite Pardon From Governor

Written by: Dina Fantegrossi
Dina Fantegrossi is the Assistant Editor and Head Writer for HomeLife Media. Before her career in writing, Dina was a veterinary technician for more than 15 years.Read more
| Published on April 12, 2017

An unprecedented case is making headlines and raising questions about dangerous dog laws. The fate of a 4-year-old Husky named Dakota remains undetermined as officials grapple with how to handle a gubernatorial pardon. Legal experts view the struggle as a sign that dogs are beginning to be treated less like property – as they are largely seen in the eyes of the law – and more like the sentient beings science has proven them to be.

Many factors have stalled the case’s resolution, including a “warrant of full reprieve and pardon” issued by Maine governor, Paul LePage on Dakota’s behalf. Although the Maine Constitution states that the governor “shall have the power to remit after conviction all forfeitures and penalties, and to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons,” it does not say whether that power applies to the pardoning of animals.

It all began back in February of 2016 when Dakota escaped from her home and killed a neighbor’s small dog. She was labeled a “dangerous dog” by the court and her owner at that time was ordered to keep her confined or muzzled when on a leash. This past January, Dakota escaped again, returned to the same house, and attacked their new dog, a Pug named Bruce Wayne.

Bruce survived, but Dakota’s sentence was swift and harsh. She was ordered to be euthanized within 48 hours. When police learned that her former owner had not complied, Dakota was seized by Animal Control and taken to the Waterville Area Humane Society. Shelter director, Lisa Smith described her as a “model resident” while in their care.

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Governor LePage granted Dakota a full pardon based on information from a member of the Humane Society’s board stating that she passed behavioral tests and interacted normally with other dogs during her time at the shelter.

This week, Dakota’s new owner appeared in court to ask that the original judgment declaring Dakota a dangerous dog, and ordering her destroyed within 48 hours, be withdrawn. She stated that abuse by her previous owner was a factor in Dakota’s behavior and agreed to comply with all restrictions.

The presiding judge refused the request, saying that the former owner was in possession of the dog at the time of the incident, and the new owner does not have the legal standing to ask that the judgment be withdrawn. The judge added that the current law regarding dangerous dogs does not allow for any other punishment besides euthanasia in Dakota’s case.

An attorney for the new owner has filed an appeal and a stay on the order of euthanasia while exploring other legal avenues that might spare Dakota’s life.

As for the governor’s pardon, legal experts see it as a sign that the idea of pets as property is becoming outdated. Sarah Schindler, a professor of law at the University of Maine School of Law and the Glassman faculty research scholar, told

“There’s been a lot of recent development in science and cognitive studies of animals and animals’ brains, and those studies have shown that animals have intentionality and they have emotions like regret,” (Schindler added that these are the kind of emotions taken into consideration when a person is pardoned.) “It just goes to show that most people do view animals as more than their property. As our science evolves, I think it makes sense that our laws would as well.”

Where do YOU stand on this complex case? Should Dakota be euthanized or should her pardon be upheld?

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