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Vol. LXII, No. 26
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
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Congo, Three Other Dogs Euthanized by James After Second Attack

Dilshanie Perera

The Congo story, which began last June following the mauling of landscaper Giovanni Rivera by the James family dog Congo, has come to an abrupt conclusion. Last Tuesday at 5:14 p.m. Princeton Township Police received a 911 call from Elizabeth James reporting that her mother, Constance Ladd, had fallen and sustained injuries after four of their German shepherds had jumped on her.

Ms. Ladd was taken to the University Medical Center at Princeton where she was treated and released.

Princeton Township Animal Control Officer Mark Johnson said that the first police officer at the scene, Chris King, who was also trained as a paramedic and EMT, noticed that the injuries were caused not only by the fall, but also multiple dog bites. He notified Mr. Johnson immediately. The police report noted that multiple “puncture wounds and lacerations” were present on Ms. Ladd’s forearm, chest, and head and that she complained of pain in her hip.

Mr. Johnson stated that he “went to the emergency room to try to protect the information, but was not permitted to see the victim, and was not allowed to take pictures of the victim.”

After a warrant was issued by the Mercer County Superior Court, photographs confirmed the evidence of bite wounds. Mr. Johnson said that an emergency room doctor also corroborated the diagnosis of multiple bites. The James family denies that the dogs bit Ms. Ladd, claiming that they jumped on her playfully as she opened the door.

Guy James, the owner of the dogs and husband of Elizabeth James, had all four dogs — Congo, Lucia, Hunter, and Bear — euthanized at 8 a.m. on Wednesday at the Princeton Animal Hospital. Mr. Johnson verified the information and said that the rabies tests for the dogs were negative.

Congo’s actions initially sparked controversy following his attack on Honduran landscaper Giovanni Rivera last June. Mr. Rivera was working on the James family lawn when Congo attacked him. There are differing accounts of whether the dog was provoked or not. According to Princeton Regional Health Officer David Henry, Mr. Rivera was “bitten over 90 times, and sustained serious bites that required the wounds to be stitched up.” Since the dogs were not vaccinated against rabies, Mr. Rivera also had 65 rabies post-exposure shots at the sites of the wounds. He received $250,000 in damages.

Following the mauling, Township Municipal Court Judge Russell Annich, Jr. declared Congo vicious, which legally required that the dog be euthanized. The James family appealed the decision and reached a settlement with the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office last November. The dogs were returned to the James family home from SAVE, where they had been kept, with the requirement that they be monitored and wear restraints when outside the James property. The episode garnered national media attention and inspired a debate about immigration, racism, animal rights, and responsibility.

Given the most recent events, Mr. Henry speculated that the attack on Ms. Ladd would have been assessed by the Superior Court following a mandatory 10 day quarantine for rabies. He noted that “death was not our immediate option” and admitted surprise at Mr. James’ decision to euthanize his canines.

According to Mr. Henry, under November’s settlement, Mr. James was required to notify Princeton Township Police Department, and Animal Control about any major events or decisions, including euthanasia, regarding the dogs up to 24 hours in advance. In this case they were told after the fact. “It is a tragic end to a tragic situation,” Mr. Henry noted.

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