Experts say LePage’s pardon of Winslow dog reflects evolution in animal law

While the legal implications of Gov. Paul LePage pardoning a Winslow dog that a court ordered be put to death remain unknown, some law experts said Friday that the governor’s unusual action reflects evolving precedence under which animals are treated less like property and more like people.

LePage on Thursday granted a pardon to Dakota, a 4-year-old Husky, after getting information about the case from a board member of the Humane Society Waterville Area, where the dog was being held pending the carrying out of a court order that it be euthanized. Dakota’s death sentence came after the dog, deemed dangerous by the town, had attacked and killed a neighboring dog last year and then attacked another dog at the same home this year. Advocates for Dakota say she is a sweet dog whose aggressive behavior was influenced by an abusive owner.

Sarah Schindler, a professor of law at the University of Maine School of Law and the Glassman faculty research scholar, said the governor’s pardon is in line with recent developments in animal law. Historically, animals were legally recognized as property, but that concept is changing, Schindler said.

“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,” she said, adding that those 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,” she said. While Schindler couldn’t speak about Dakota’s case specifically, she said that “as our science evolves, I think it makes sense that our laws would as well.”

Winslow Animal Control Officer Chris Martinez, who deemed Dakota to be dangerous, said Friday he’s taking the governor’s pardon “with a grain of salt,” because it’s unclear whether LePage’s action carries legal weight or is merely symbolic. A court…

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