Bark worse than bite: a crazy year at the Waterville area animal shelter

Echo recently reported on the escape of two condemned dogs from the Waterville Humane Society on 100 Webb Road. Danielle Jones’ pit bulls were ordered to be housed at the Waterville shelter following an event in August of last year in which the dogs escaped from their yard, attacked and seriously injured Winslow resident Sharron Carey, and killed Carey’s Boston terrier.

Late October, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court confirmed that the dogs were to be euthanized. That same day, shelter officials allowed Jones to take the dogs off premises, from where they did not return.

“We do not know where the dogs are. No one saw the dogs get away from her. There’s no video surveillance, and there are no other witnesses,” Waterville Chief of Police Joseph Massey said in a recent interview with the Echo. “It’s very difficult when you have little to go on. They could be anywhere.”

Amidst the controversy, the Winslow Police Department (which handled the bulk of the case) threatened to move its animal shelter partnership to an Augusta facility unless the Waterville facility did not change management. Waterville Humane Society director Lisa Smith stepped down following this statement, but shelter staff maintained that her departure was unrelated to the dogs’ escape.

“The director [Smith] took the shelter to the next level,” Rory Routhier, interim director of the Waterville animal shelter, said in an interview with the Echo.

Surprisingly, this is not the first strange incident to occur at the Waterville Humane Society, which has seen two other recent fiascos.

The first involved another dog attack. Last spring and summer, the state witnessed the curious case of Dakota, a husky which attacked two dogs and which Governor Paul LePage attempted to pardon.

In March 2017, Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney explained Dakota’s crimes to Central Maine,   in 2016 Dakota was owned by Winslow resident Matthew Perry. During this time, the husky attacked and killed a neighbor’s dog and was thus ordered by a Maine court to be confined. However, Dakota escaped confinement and attacked the neighbor’s new dog.

As a result, on March 21, District Court Judge Valerie Stanfill ordered the husky to be housed at the Waterville Humane Society before being be put down.

However, Linda Janeski, Perry’s ex-mother in law, adopted the dog from the Waterville facility where it was being held before its slated euthanization date.

Then, a member of the board of the Waterville Humane Society wrote a note to Governor Paul LePage asking for a pardon for Dakota. In a surprising turn, LePage signed the first ever pardon of a non-human in state history. The governor stated in his letter which was published in the Boston Globe, “[I] reviewed the facts of this case and I believe the dog ought to be provided a full and free pardon.”

Maloney, a democrat, contended in the Bangor Daily News that LePage had heard only Dakota’s supporters’ heartfelt accounts, and would see the justice in euthanasia had he heard from Dakota’s victim’s owner too. She and others began to review whether LePage had the authority to pardon a dog. While University of Maine School of Law Professor Dmitry Bam Maine said that LePage’s move seemed within bounds, Legislative Librarian Alex Burnett stated in the Bangor Daily News that finding precedent on this issue proved difficult.

In April, a district court judge initially refused LePage’s pardon and confirmed that Dakota would be put down. However, the order was stayed, who set off a succession of deal making attempts.

Maloney, the victim dogs’ owners, and Dakota’s supporters argued over a deal to save Dakota’s life and make it a sled dog in New Hampshire.

Lisa Smith and the Waterville Humane Society, as well as the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry’s animal welfare program, defended Dakota as no longer dangerous.

Janeski also filed a motion with the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine, but the matter did not reach that level.

In July, Judge Stanfill approved a deal made between Maloney, Perry’s attorneys, and Janeski’s attorneys. Among other demands, the deal orders that Dakota never return to Waterville, and always be kept on a short leash.

“I know she’s going to be in a better place, well taken care of” Perry said in an interview with the Bangor Daily News. “Anybody would be happy to have her.”

The question of whether the governor may pardon a non-human species remained un-answered. Amidst this issue, Maloney argued that, regardless of intention, the Waterville Humane Society breached a court-order by allowing the condemned Dakota to be adopted by Janeski.

Perhaps the vigorousness with which the Waterville shelter defended Dakota also contributed to the police’s suspicion that the facility may have been complicit in the escape of Jones’ pit bulls. Interestingly, Maine has a tradition of rescuing condemned animals. In 1984, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld an order to put down bull mastiff Tucker after the dog attacked and killed a neighbor’s poodle. The dog, however, was stolen by animal advocates before he could be euthanized.

More recently, The Portland Press Herald reported on Oct. 2 that the Waterville Humane Society was forced to close down temporarily due to an outbreak of feline distemper, a contagious viral disease which afflicts kittens and cats.

The outbreak killed many of the shelter’s cats and forced the facility to suspend adoptions at the peak of ‘cat season.’ The shelter also paused adoptions of dogs and instructed volunteers to stay home to limit exposure. This order affected Colby’s own Paw Pals community service group, which was scheduled to go through orientation at the animal shelter the weekend of the outbreak.

“I was upset that we were unable to help [the animals and shelter workers],”Matt Jones `20, a new member of Paw Pals, said in an interview with the Echo. “It was very upsetting to hear about the outbreak.”

Herald reported that then director Lisa Smith was on a vacation when the virus broke out. Smith was also absent on the day of the pit bulls’ escape in October.

Following these successive fiascos and the departure of Smith, the Waterville Humane Society announced in a Facebook post in late October that it has formed a management partnership with the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland (ARLGP). Humane Society Board of Directors President Mike Brown stated in a press release that the ARLGP will assist in day to day operations and protocol oversight.

The most immediate change stemming from the decision is a new policy stating that the facility will be closed weekly Wednesdays. The Waterville shelter has worked with the ARLGP throughout the past six years to find homes for animals. In fact, shelter staff stated that the mission statement of the Humane Society—to provide the highest level of treatment and care for pets— will not change, but remain a strong pillar upon which the organization rests.