AUGUSTA — Brutally mauled by two dogs who attacked her in a public parking lot in Gardiner last summer, Cynthia Roodman found herself on the ground alone and bleeding while the animals’ owner herded them into his car and drove away.

“I was screaming at them: ‘Please don’t leave me! Call 911! Please don’t leave me!’” she later told the Kennebec Journal.

Cynthia Roodman (File photo)

Though police officers managed to track down the man who fled the scene, and his dogs were later euthanized, there was not any legal requirement the dogs’ owner stick around.

That could change.

The Legislature’s Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety recently agreed to recommend a law change to require the owner or keeper of a dog that causes an injury to someone remain on the scene at least long enough to provide contact information or they will face a potential felony charge.

“Simply put, it is negligence when someone is in a situation where their dog attacks someone to simply walk away and leave that person to fend for themselves,”  said state Sen. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, who co-sponsored the bill.

State Rep. Thom Harnett, D-Gardiner, the other co-sponsor, said he was “appalled that someone had acted in such a callous fashion to an injured human being.”

To become law, the measure needs approval of the House, Senate and Gov. Janet Mills.

Meagan Sway, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, urged legislators to reject the bill.

“Criminalizing new behavior does little to solve society’s problems,” she told the committee, pointing out the “consequences of increased incarceration are devastating to our communities, and the impact on budgets already strained under a tenuous economy is significant.”

Moreover, she said, there is no evidence creating the new crime “will deter someone from leaving the scene of a dog attack.”

Roodman, who said she wound up with many stitches and serious emotional injuries, said she backs the bill because the dog owner’s presence ensures critical information will be immediately available to victims and first responders.

For instance, she said, after she arrived at the hospital, she needed “very expensive rabies shots” because nobody knew anything about whether the dogs who went after her had been vaccinated.

“This is not a bill addressing the behavior of dogs,” Harnett said. “Rather, it is a bill that addresses human behavior that should have criminal consequences. It is not anti-dog; it is pro-responsible moral human behavior.”

The Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said it is reasonable to expect dog owners to remain at the scene of an attack.

“This is just common decency,” Tina Heather Nadeau, the group’s executive director, told lawmakers.

She said, though, it is an isolated problem that does not need “a full-blown, new felony crime” to address it, particularly for simply failing to provide a name and address. It would be better, Nadeau said, to simply impose a large civil fine for anyone who leaves the scene.

Lawyer Lauri Boxer-Macomber, who serves on the board for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition of Maine and the Maine Trial Lawyers Association, told legislators she is familiar with the harm dangerous, uncontrolled dogs can cause.

She said the proposed law would offer “valuable protections for users of public parks, multi-use trails and roadways” because it would help ensure the necessary information is available to victims and official agencies.

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