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Vol. LXII, No. 1
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
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Dog Task Force Disbands as Advocates Look Toward Promoting Canine Safety

Matthew Hersh

Just over three months after a group of animal safety advocates appealed to the Princetons to support a group assembled to lobby for regulatory measures for potentially dangerous dogs, the group has dissolved — though it will likely re-form in the New Year.

The group’s efforts had been eclipsed by the ongoing case of Congo, the Princeton Township German Shepherd that attacked a landscaper in June 2007, municipal officials said last week. The decision by a municipal judge to euthanize the dog is still pending appeal in Superior Court, but the spotlight on the Congo case has caused something of a distraction for residents looking to enhance municipal and state laws supporting dog and dog owner safety.

“It was really everything that surrounded the Congo issue, and there were concerns that we would attract protestors to our meetings,” said municipal health officer David Henry, pointing to the peaceful protests organized to save Congo’s life late last year.

Some individuals of the six-member task force, sanctioned by both Princeton governments last fall as a subcommittee of the Princeton Regional Health Department, said they wanted to take some time off until the Congo situation sorts itself out. The Health Commission had targeted December 1, 2007, for the filing of possible recommendations for the state Legislature related to animal safety, as well those for dispensing general animal-related information. And while the objective is still in order, any action will now be knocked back a few months, Mr. Henry said.

The first order of business, however, is a change in name. No longer will the group be known as the “Vicious Dog Task Force.” A new, more appropriate title will likely reflect the positives found in safety, Mr. Henry said, pointing to the possibility of the “Dog Control Committee” at the recommendation of one of the committee’s members.

The focus, Mr. Henry added, will stay the same. When the group lobbied for formation in September, it did so following a discussion where the the Princetons considered, and eventually adopted, increases in licensing fees for “potentially dangerous” dogs to $700, up from $100, representing the means considered necessary to cover the costs of penning a dangerous dog for extended periods of time.

Princeton Animal Control officer Mark Johnson, who appeared before both the Borough and Township governing bodies, said at the time that increased measures, including fencing and muzzling for dogs with an existing rap sheet, could prevent future injury to dogs and humans.

A significant component of the new measure involved education, better enforcement, and making changes for the state Legislature to consider. Municipalities are not allowed to create dangerous-dog measures that would surpass the scope of existing state law.

While the task force has held only one meeting since its formation, Mr. Henry said that his department was focusing attention on looking into the educational component. “We want residents to know the importance of being responsible dog owners,” he said, adding that the Health Department would support dog licensing, and encourage owners to keep up on their dogs’ various vaccinations.

“Basically, we just want to get the word out on being good, responsible, dog owners,” Mr. Henry said.

The Dog Safety Committee is expected to regroup sometime in February.

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