LEWISTON — A Mexico woman is angry that one of the busiest animal shelters in the state broke its own policy this week by allowing the governor to skip waiting in line and adopt his new dog, Veto, a day before the Jack Russell terrier mix was made available to the public.  

Heath Arsenault said she wanted to adopt the dog as emotional support after a traumatic assault and had planned to wait in line for him, as per the rules at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston.

A shelter official acknowledged that the dog — named Jasper at the shelter and renamed Veto by Gov. Paul LePage — was adopted early against policy, but she said shelter personnel had hoped the adoption would be good publicity.

“The governor walks in your front door and it sort of shifts things a little,” Development Director Donna Kincer said.

The shelter has become extremely popular in recent years because of its creative adoption events, social media campaigns and the puppies and other animals it brings up from crowded shelters in the South. Last year, over 1,500 dogs were adopted from the shelter. 

The nonprofit’s policy has long been that animals can only be adopted after they become publicly available — and then only on a first-come, first-served basis. Any potential adopter must show up in person, fill out an application and pay the adoption fee. Some animals can be placed “on hold” for 24 hours, but only after they become publicly available and the potential adopter has visited the animal and met with shelter personnel. 

It’s common for potential adopters to line up outside the shelter hours before it opens — some arriving in the middle of the night — for the chance to take home a pet they spotted on the Humane Society’s website or Facebook page.    

Arsenault, 22, said she spotted the Jack Russell terrier online and fell in love. Her cousin visited him at the shelter and said he was small — important because Arsenault’s apartment allows only little dogs — and he seemed happy and gentle.

Arsenault said she was traumatized by a recent sexual assault and “was attached to the hope that things could start getting better” by adopting the terrier.

“I wasn’t able to have that emotional support or physical touch,” she said. “Human touch makes me feel revolted. I feel revolted a lot of the time and it’s really hard. I haven’t been able to hug anybody and I don’t have the emotional support that I need.

“I thought that this would make up for it,” she said. “It didn’t make me feel uncomfortable and that was a big step in the right direction for me to start healing.”

Arsenault said she spoke Monday with shelter workers who told her the rules and advised her that the 2-year-old terrier would go up for adoption Wednesday. Anxious about being first in line, Arsenault took Wednesday off work and arranged to get to the shelter at 7:30 a.m., three and a half hours before the doors opened. 

But on Tuesday she spotted a GAHS Facebook post touting LePage’s adoption of a new dog. It was the dog she’d planned to stand in line for after he became available the next day.

“I just saw him — and then I saw Jasper and I saw him holding Jasper — and I just started to cry,” she said. “I felt like they lied to me.” 

Kincer said the shelter sticks to its adoption policies and she wasn’t aware of another time someone had gotten preferential treatment. But she acknowledged that LePage did Tuesday. She said the dog, who was brought up from New Orleans, was out of quarantine and workers made the decision to allow LePage to take him before he was publicly available because LePage is the governor. 

“Think about it in a positive light of how many animals are going to be adopted now at the shelters because such a wonderful figure in our community, in our state, chose adoption as their option,” Kincer said.

It was unclear whether the governor knew the dog wasn’t available for adoption until Wednesday, and then only to the first person who showed up for him. 

Kincer said the governor was told of the shelter’s policy, but he said he could not return Wednesday because of his schedule.

LePage spokesman Peter Steele said the governor’s family had been looking for a dog for him and told him Saturday about one they spotted on the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society website. The governor stopped by the shelter after a lunch meeting in Poland on Tuesday.

Steele said shelter personnel offered to let the governor take the dog home immediately; he did not ask to do so.

“He just stopped in to see the dog,” Steele said in an email. “He was very pleasantly surprised when GAHS allowed him to take the dog home. Veto was pretty excited, too.”

The governor’s 10-year-old dog, Baxter, also a Jack Russell terrier mix, died last month.

Whether or not the governor knew of the policy, Arsenault believes the shelter was wrong to give him the dog he wanted while other people have to wait, hope and stand in line.

“No one should be given special privileges, even if they are the governor,” she said.

The shelter has contacted Arsenault about finding another dog.

[email protected]