Many of you are quite familiar with the case of the German Shepherd, Congo, in Princeton, NJ. The dog bit a landscaper and was deemed vicious and ordered killed by the presiding judge in the case.
Now that sounds like a pretty cut and dried case but the details surrounding the case make it very not ‘cut and dried’ as it initially sounds. You can read the full background HERE and there are numerous other stories you can find linked there as well.
This case, which incited the nation, has led to some legislation being introduced in NJ, a state that is short on animal related laws, especially regarding ‘vicious’ dogs.
A bill call ‘Congo’s Law’ will be introduced by Assemblyman Neil Cohen to the Assembly today and is aimed at changing the laws regarding vicious dogs and address perceived flaws brought to light by the case.
Some of the provisions in the proposed law will include a definition of provocation that will take into account the dog’s point of view rather than the human’s and also raise the standard for finding a dog vicious to beyond a reasonable doubt, the same standard now in use when humans are charged with a crime.
A lawyer for Congo’s owners has argued that Congo, a 2 1/2-year-old German shepherd, was provoked when he led a dog attack and mauled a landscaper on June 5 at a house in Princeton Township. But the township prosecutor, the animal control officer and a municipal court judge say it was an unprovoked attack.
Landscaper Giovanni Rivera, who was hospitalized and underwent surgery for his wounds, received a $250,000 settlement from the residents’ insurer, plus medical expenses.
“It certainly could be precedent-setting,” said Robert Lytle, the lawyer for the Congo’s owners, of the case.
Congo, one of six German shepherds owned by Guy and Elizabeth James, was ruled vicious by Municipal Court Judge Russell Annich Jr. and, if that ruling is upheld, must be put down. Annich stayed his decision pending an appeal to Superior Court.
A Superior Court judge Thursday allowed the dog to return to his home, pending appeal, with numerous restrictions in place, including that he wear a muzzle and be kept inside a fenced area.
Provocation will be the heart of the Superior Court appeal, Lytle said, arguing that Congo was provoked into attacking Rivera when Rivera grabbed Elizabeth James, causing her to scream.
Relying on testimony from an expert witness, a professor of veterinary science from the University of Pennsylvania, Lytle said the issue of provocation must be decided from the “perspective of a reasonably well-behaved dog.”
Congo, as well as all the James’ dogs, have no history of biting before and were shown as being a friendly, gentle and affectionate dogs by affidavits of many individuals. The problem is that there are case laws on provocation in NJ and basically this was an issue based on provocation. The state argued that the dogs were not provoked while the defense argued that, by the way of the dogs’ thinking, they were.
In his Oct. 30 opinion, Annich noted, “The statute does not define provocation and there is no helpful case law in New Jersey. There is no evidence to suggest that Mr. Rivera or anyone else on the scene in tended to provoke the dogs to at tack.”
“The critical issue in the case was the question of provocation and it being a relatively recent law, there was no New Jersey case law that I could be guided by,” Annich said in an interview. “So I looked at the legislative intent and out-of- state cases from Minnesota and Illinois.”
This new law would also not only cover future cases, but be retroactive to current cases as well as dogs that have already been vicious and are awaiting death, including Congo.
As Guy James, Congo’s owner said, “If anything good comes out of this ordeal, Congo has not been locked up in vain. This law will protect any future cases like ours. We have been through hell and back in this horrific incident. Congo’s law will be a reminder to us all that we should stand up for our rights and not roll over.”
We’ll all be awaiting the outcome of the Congo case as well as the final results on the newly introduced legislation. It’s always frustrating when it takes something like this to wake people up but hopefully this will pass and future dogs and their families will be spared the pain and hell Congo and the Jameses went through!
Source – The Times
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