Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 15
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
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Congo Walks as Township Family, State Reach Settlement Before Court Hearing

Matthew Hersh

An agreement reached Thursday will spare the life of Congo, the Princeton Township German shepherd that faced a death sentence for mauling a landscaper last year, according to Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.

The dog’s owners, Township residents Guy and Elizabeth James, agreed to pay a total of $250 in fines, with Ms. James, who was the defendant in the case versus the state, pleading guilty to the Township ordinance that prohibits a person from allowing their dog to “threaten, menace, bite or molest any person.” The Jameses will pay a $50 fine for each of the five dogs involved in the June 2007 mauling of Giovanni Rivera, who was seriously injured when he and a landscaping crew came on to the James’s property for a landscaping job.

It was determined that Mr. James had warned the crew to stay off the premises until all of the dogs were rounded up, but that the crew had come onto the property as Ms. James collected Congo, along with the other shepherds, Lucia, Shadow, Bear, and Hunter. A chaotic scene ensued where four of the dogs attacked Mr. Rivera while another worker attempted to fend off the canines by hitting them with a rake. Mr. Rivera sought refuge behind Ms. James, pulling her down in the process, which prompted Congo to attack.

The attack required surgery for Mr. Rivera, who received $250,000 plus medical expenses in a settlement.

After a November ruling by Princeton Township Municipal Court Judge Russell Annich Jr. determining that Congo was vicious and the four other dogs potentially dangerous, Congo was to be euthanized. The Jameses immediately challenged that ruling in Mercer County Superior Court, with court Judge Mitchel Ostrer allowing Congo to return to the James residence as the appeal was considered.

In this settlement, the Jameses have agreed to:

• Maintain the existing fencing around the perimeter of their property;

• Securely muzzle and restrain Congo, Lucia, Shadow, Bear, and Hunter if taken off the premises. The dogs are not required to be muzzled or tethered while contained in their enclosure;

• Maintain insurance, either in the form of a homeowner’s policy, separate liability policy, or both, in an amount equal to that which existed prior to the filing of the present charges and to notify the Township if that insurance is cancelled;

• Notify the Township, Animal Control, and police if any of the five dogs is at large or injures a person or animal at any time;

• Inform a potential purchaser of the dogs that they were found to have violated Township code by biting a human. That requirement does not apply to Bear.

In return, the state will no longer seek to destroy Congo, require dangerous dog licenses for the dogs, require registration tattoos, or require an annual $700 dangerous dog fee relating to the five dogs.

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