by Jeanne Hambleton ©
NFA Leader Against Pain-Advocate
A committee of the New Jersey Senate has considered a new bill called Congo’s Law and there are hopes that Congo, the German Shepherd dog, will no longer be under sentence of death.
Congo was put on “death row” last June as a vicious dog after protecting his mistress, a female dog and three puppies, from an alleged attack with rake by a gardening contractor. When news of his fate reached the Internet animal activists and dog lovers all over the world signed petitions and sent emails to the Judge in Princeton, home of Congo, to save the dog’s life.
This week thanks to a friend, Anne Soden, who lives in Princeton and took part in one of the demonstration to save Congo, I can bring you news that an American Assemblyman called Neil M Cohen from the New Jersey Senate has proposed a Bill to save the life of Congo, the German Shepherd dog sentenced to death. Thanks Anne.
Neil Cohen is quoted as saying,“Congo’s case underscores the need for the state to modernize the law that deals with dog attacks so it is fair for the owners and the animals.”
Congo’s Bill would revise state animal control law provisions that are alleged to be archaic and barbaric, by making it more difficult to label a dog vicious or to put an animal down.
But a USA website which shows a picture of two of the James children with Congo, adds a cautious note to say, “Please note that Congo being returned to his family is only temporary while the case goes through the appeal. Congo could still be put to sleep for protecting his family. So please, keep contacting the governor’s office to have this matter put to rest once and for all. The calls and emails are helping!” Details of who and where to write or email appear on http://abbyK9.blogspot.com and later in this story.
NEW JERSEY SENATE
In December Congo’s Bill, that would immediately change the state’s vicious dog laws, made its first passage through the Senate.
The New Jersey Assemblyman Neil Cohen, who took this action, is an avid defender of the rights of animal and has sponsored several measures to ensure the humane treatment of animals. He has met Congo and his owners, the James family, at their home in Princeton to raise awareness of his legislation and the dog’s potential fate. Neil Cohen says that under current law the only defense for a dog declared vicious is if the dog has been provoked and acted in defense to protect itself, its offspring, its owner or a family member of the owner.
“The nature of a dog is to protect those around them,” said the Assemblyman. “It’s outrageous that Congo may have been provoked into attacking and this fact is being ignored by authorities.”
A lawyer for Congo’s owners has argued that Congo was provoked when the dog mauled a landscaper on June 5 outside a home in Princeton Township. Neil Cohen’s bill (A-4597) will clarify and revise the current vicious dog law to make it more equitable.
The bill would take into consideration provocation by treating a dog provoked to attack differently than an unprovoked dog that caused bodily injury to a person or domestic animal during an attack.
The Assemblyman said the bill would define striking, grabbing, poking and prodding as threatening actions and behaviors that could incite a dog to defend itself, its offspring or its owner or the owner’s family. The legislation would raise the bar for declaring a dog as vicious. It would require a dog to be found vicious beyond a reasonable doubt — the same standard used for humans charged with a crime. The measure also would give municipal courts an alternative to humanely destroying a vicious dog by giving the owner the option to comply with precautions for keeping a potentially dangerous dog.
During the disposition and appeals process, the bill would allow an owner to keep their dog as long as they complied with current law’s precautions for keeping a potentially dangerous dog. Precautions for owners keeping a dog deemed potentially dangerous include posting signs on their property and minimizing a dog’s potential threat to people and other animals. The bill also would allow an owner and owner’s family to visit their dog during times when their dog might be impounded. The bill would establish a three-month statute of limitations for animal control officer to seize and impound alleged vicious or potentially dangerous dogs.
Neil Cohen said the vicious dog law has not been amended since 1994 and it is long overdue for an update. He hoped his legislation would be fast tracked into law to save the life of the Congo.
Congo was ruled vicious by Princeton Township Municipal Judge Russell Annich, Jr., who also ordered that the dog be put down. The judge’s decision has since been stayed and a state Superior Court Judge has allowed the dog to return to his home, pending appeal, with numerous restrictions, including that he is muzzled and kept in a fenced area.
The fate of Congo created a public debate that has lead to more telephone calls, emails, letters and faxes to Governor Jon S. Corzine’s office than any other issue since the governor took office.
The Bill was carried by a vote of 5 to 0. It now heads to the Assembly Speaker who may or may not decide to post it for a vote by the full Assembly.
ON LINE SUPPORT
Broadcaster Warren Eckstein from Santa Monica, California, an internationally known pet and animal expert, has been carrying news of Congo’s Bill on his website.
On December 19 Warren wrote that the New Jersey Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee today released legislation Assembly Deputy Speaker Neil M. Cohen crafted that would immediately change the state’s vicious dog laws.
It was also reported – you will be pleased to hear – from Warren’s website that Congo and his partner Lucia are so happy to be back together.
Elizabeth James on Warren’s website wrote, “I think the appeal could take months but we are optimistic. God willing, New Jersey Assemblyman Neil Cohen’s proposal of Congo’s Law will go through and that will be the first line of defense. We are still receiving mail and email from well wishers and supporters all around the globe! Thank you for all the support and we will keep you posted as we progress.”
On another local website for Asbury Park Press, APP.com for Jersey for comments, blogs and shares, Tom Baldwin of Gannett State Bureau reported Assemblyman Neil Cohen, a professed dog-lover, is quoted as saying under this bill Congo gets saved and the bill gives municipal judges needed latitude to deal with dog-bite cases.
Tom Baldwin continues and I smiled, “The story connects hot-issue circuitry. Mix the gentility of leafy, enlightened Princeton with the dog-lovers and the immigration debate — the landscaper is reported to have been an illegal from Honduras — and the story quickly won global appeal.
“Locally, not since a whale swam up the Delaware River to freshwater Trenton in April 2005 has an animal story grabbed headlines, aside from some reported coyote attacks and New Jersey’s enduring debate over whether to allow hunters shoot black bears.”
And finally Abby K 9 tells us the way to get Congo’s ruling reversed, hopefully, is to contact New Jersey governor Jim Corzine. His office is taking calls (and counting them) to support overturning the death sentence for Congo the German Shepherd.
The governor’s office can be contacted at Office of the Governor, PO Box 001,Trenton, NJ 08625. Calling is preferred, (609-292-6000) but you can also email them through the website.
Choose “Law & Public Safety” on the drop-down menu and on the next page, choose “Pardons & Clemency”. It only takes a few seconds to call – they are interested in the number of callers, not what you have to say – and it does not take much longer to email. Assemblyman Cohen telephone number is (908) 624-0880.
The following includes a statement from the Bill outlining the relevant details of Congo’s Bill.
On December 17 Senate Bill No. 3019 (A.4597) was introduced for the 212th Legislature. The synopsis said it revises vicious and potentially dangerous dog law; designated Congo’s Law.
The final Statement in the Act concerning vicious and potentially dangerous dogs and designated as Congo’s Law, and amending and supplementing P.L.1989, c.307.
enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey said,
“This bill clarifies and revises several provisions of the State law that address vicious and potentially dangerous dogs. It is designated as Congo’s Law in recognition of Congo, a dog in Princeton, New Jersey, that was declared a vicious dog and subject to an order to be euthanized when, by many accounts, it was protecting its owner and the owner’s family members when a landscaping crew, against the owner’s instructions, came onto the owner’s property.
“Specifically, the bill defines the terms ‘provoked’ and ‘unprovoked.’ Whether a dog is provoked or not is currently the only defense under the law to prevent a dog from being declared vicious when it is acting in defense of itself, its offspring, its owner, or a family member of its owner. Also, under current law, if a municipal court declares a dog to be vicious, it must be humanely destroyed. This bill provides the municipal court an alternative to humanely destroying a dog that is declared vicious.
“Under the bill, the court may, for equitable reasons, choose an alternative to destroying the dog if the alternative is sufficient to protect the public and is at least as protective and restrictive as the precautions required for keeping a potentially dangerous dog. The bill allows for an owner to keep the dog pending disposition of the case and any appeals if the owner agrees to comply with those precautions. The precautions include posting certain signs on the property and minimizing the dog’s contact and threat to people and other animals in specific ways.
“In addition, the bill authorizes the court to modify certain requirements for potentially dangerous dogs, and vicious dogs that remain with their owners, to be reasonable, affordable and appropriate to the owner’s circumstances. The bill further provides for visitation by the owner and the owner’s family during any impoundment that is required.
“Furthermore, the bill raises the burden of proof in most cases for finding a dog to be vicious or potentially dangerous to beyond a reasonable doubt, instead of by clear and convincing evidence. The municipal burden of proof for demonstrating that a dog was not provoked or that the injury was not accidental would be by clear and convincing evidence. The bill clarifies under the law’s hearing provisions to provide that a hearing on whether the dog is vicious or potentially dangerous will be held unless the owner agrees to relinquish ownership of the dog.
“The bill further requires the notice to the owner to inform the owner of the potential consequences of not replying to the notice within seven days. Under current law and the bill, if the owner does not reply within seven days of the notice, or if the owner relinquishes ownership of the dog, the dog may be humanely destroyed. The bill eliminates the requirement to tattoo a potentially dangerous dog.
“The bill also modifies the provision under current law concerning liability insurance for potentially dangerous dogs. The bill allows the court to order this insurance for potentially dangerous dogs, and if applicable, vicious dogs, if it is available. Furthermore, the court is directed to determine a sufficient and reasonable amount of coverage and a reasonable cost for that coverage; and the insurance company is directed to notify the municipality of the coverage and any lapsing of the policy, if the company can lawfully do so.
“Finally, the bill provides additional protections for the public by authorizing municipalities, if a municipality chooses to do so, to establish procedures for recording and investigating complaints about, and requiring appropriate notice to the public concerning, dogs within the jurisdiction of the municipality that are reported to exhibit menacing, threatening, or other aggressive behavior that may lead to injury to a person or a domestic animal, or that have injured a person but have not been the subject of an action pursuant to the State vicious and potentially dangerous dog law. The municipality must establish these procedures and requirements by ordinance and it is authorized to require an owner of a dog subject to complaints to post signs or take other action determined necessary by the municipality for the protection of the public.
“With Assembly Floor Amendments
(Proposed By Assemblyman Cohen) ADOPTED: DECEMBER 13, 2007
(1) make changes to the definition of “provoked” in the bill;
(2) remove certain time limitations by which certain actions may be taken in section 2 of the bill; and
(3) change the municipal burden of proof with respect to whether the dog was not provoked or that the injury was not accidental from beyond a reasonable doubt to by clear and convincing evidence.
Clause 15 states – This act shall take effect immediately, and shall apply to all pending cases and cases in the process of being adjudicated as of the date of enactment of this act, and to any dogs under court order for humane destruction as of January 1, 2007 but which have not been destroyed as of the date of enactment of this act.
The Bill must now go before the Full Assembly