Bill Drafted in Response to Numerous Dog Mauling Incidents in the State Involving Large Breed Dogs
(TRENTON) – Assembly Democrats Benjie Wimberly and Pamela Lampitt have recently introduced legislation, known as the “Responsible Dog Ownership Act” to strengthen dog leashing and fencing laws in New Jersey for large breed dogs.
“To lose a child or anyone as a result of an unrestrained, unsupervised animal is unconscionable and must be prevented in everyway we can in the future,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen Passaic). “A ‘Beware of the Dog’ sign will simply not cut it any longer. A large breed dog can be a challenge for any average sized adult to defend themselves against. A child or an elderly person has little to no chance of defense against a raging, uncontrolled animal.”
Wimberly notes the tragic death of 13-year-old Kenneth Santillan in Paterson, who died as a result of a dog attack in 2014 as one of the incidents which prompted this legislation. Kenneth, 13, and a friend, who sustained injuries, were attacked by a 115 pound bull mastiff in their neighborhood. In another incident, two boys in Lyndhurst, NJ, both 12 years old, were attacked by a pit bull as they were returning to school; both were bit repeatedly but survived.
The bill (A-4385) requires the establishment of leashing and fencing requirements by the Department of Health that provide for the protection of the public, especially children, from the potential hazards of unrestrained dogs. The legislation also establishes penalties for violations and crimes of endangerment under the Endangering Welfare of Children Act by purposely, knowingly, or recklessly allowing a dog to roam without a leash or other restraint in a residential neighborhood, park or other open space accessible to the public.
“Although most animals involved in these types of incidents have had a history of being improperly cared for, abused, or neglected, this legislation is not concerned with how a dog is treated in the home or whether it has ever attacked anyone before,” said Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington). “An owner should have and use a leash or some type of restraint for their large breed dogs just as a necessary safety precaution. No one can really say what exactly may cause a dog to viciously react.”
Lampitt raised another concern prompted by an incident in which a Camden County officer was attacked by a pit bull while trying to make an arrest in 2013.
“Large breed dog owners must take certain precautions with their pets,” Lampitt continued. “Leashing and proper fencing are two sensible ways ensure that dogs remain safe, protect residents, and reduce the risk of a vicious dog attack for officers performing their jobs.”
The Department of Health after consulting with the New Jersey Certified Animal Control Officers Association, the League of Municipalities, the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association and the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is directed, under the bill, to develop the rules and regulations establishing:
(1) the size of dog that would constitute a large dog necessitating fencing for the protection and well being of the pubic at large;
(2) the appropriate height and dimensions of an enclosed fenced area for such large dogs so as to properly protect the public and ensure the well being of the dog;
(3) standards for leashing, restraining, otherwise restricting the free movement of a dog when it is off the property of its owner; and the appropriate requirements for the control and regulation of the free movement of dogs all sizes of dogs off the property of an owner in the state.
“Maintaining control over your pet is common sense and a major part of responsible pet ownership,” Wimberly added. “Abiding by leash and fencing laws protects not only your pet but the public, especially any children or vulnerable residents in your neighborhood.”
According to DogsBite.org, over 700 U.S. cities have adopted breed-specific laws since the mid 1980s, just after pit bulls (fighting dogs) began leaking into the general population. In addition, in 2014, loose dogs off their owner’s property inflicted 40% of all fatal attacks in the U.S., a sharp rise from the last 10-year rate of 24% (2005 to 2014).
The measure has been referred to the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.