The General Assembly on Monday unanimously approved bipartisan legislation sponsored by Assemblymen Charles Mainor and Daniel Benson that would bolster protections for service animals.
“Unfortunately, attacks on guide dogs very similar to the one on Dusty are relatively common and statutes pertaining to these crimes are long overdue,” said Mainor (D-Hudson). “Guide dogs provide many residents with disabilities the opportunity to live an independent life. Any crime against these companions is cowardly, malicious and their victimization hurts the owner equally as much.”
The bill (A-4105) establishes criminal penalties for recklessly killing, injuring; or interfering with a guide dog. The bill is known as “Dusty’s Law.” Dusty, a dog being trained by the Seeing Eye Organization, was attacked by a pit bull while working with his trainer in Woodcliff Lake in 2010. Due to his injuries, he can no longer function as a guide dog.
“Guide dogs dutifully serve and protect their owner,” said Benson (D- Mercer and Middlesex). “They are life companions that help to instill confidence and dignity in the owner by helping them to complete daily tasks. Criminalizing reckless acts against service dogs would hold the perpetrator accountable for their action and the care of the animal if injuries are sustained.”
Specifically, the bill would make it a crime of the fourth degree for a person to recklessly kill a guide dog, or to recklessly permit a dog that he or she owns or has immediate control over to kill a guide dog. A fourth degree crime is punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
Additionally, a person who recklessly injures a guide dog, or recklessly permits a dog that he or she owns or has immediate control over to injure a guide dog would be a disorderly person’s offense under the bill and would be punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to six months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
Finally, a person who recklessly interferes with the use of a guide dog, by obstructing, intimidating or otherwise jeopardizing the safety of the guide dog or its handler would be guilty of a petty disorderly person’s offense.
The bill defines a “guide dog” as a dog or dog in training which has been or is being raised or trained to provide assistance to a blind or deaf person, including but not limited to a dog that has been or is being raised or trained by a volunteer puppy raiser or staff member of an organization generally recognized as being involved in the rehabilitation of the blind or deaf and reputable and competent to provide dogs with specialized training.
The bill defines a “service animal” as any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. This is the definition of a service animal under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
The measure now heads back to the Senate for final legislative approval.