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Tougher penalties for those who hurt police, service animals OK’d by state Assembly

Photo Credit: Roger Woodhour
Photo Credit: Roger Woodhour

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST : The state Assembly today approved a measure that boosts penalties for anyone who harms a service animal, including seeing-eye and search-and-rescue dogs. It now goes to the state Senate for a vote.

Assembly members Nancy Muñoz and Bob Schroeder

Assemblyman Bob Schroeder, R-Bergen, and Nancy Muñoz, R-Essex, Morris, Somerset and Union, co-sponsored the bill, which upgrades the crime of killing a dog, horse, or other animal owned or used by a law enforcement agency — or a search-and-rescue dog — from a third- to a second-degree crime.

It also upgrades the crime of purposely maiming or inflicting harm upon a dog, horse or other animal owned or used by a law enforcement agency from a fourth- to a third-degree crime.

“Incidents of attack on service animals, particularly guide dogs, are all-too-common,” Schroeder said. “This bill is the first step in enacting stricter laws to protect service animals.”

Dusty (CLIFFVIEW PILOT photos, courtesy Roger Woodhour)

Muñoz expressed hope that the measure raises awareness of the danger that interference poses to service animals as they work.

“The safety of the service dog handler depends on the dog’s ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand,” she said. “These highly-trained animals provide a valuable service, and need to be treated respectfully while fulfilling their duties.”

A survey conducted in 2003 by The Seeing Eye in Morristown revealed that 89 percent of guide-dog users experience some form of interference by loose or uncontrolled dogs, and 42 percent have been attacked at least once.

Members of the Morristown-based group attended today’s vote.

Schroeder, who has worked closely with them, is now turning his attention to a bill he introduced last fall: “Dusty’s Law,” which addresses dog-on-dog attacks and interference with service animals, is named for a seeing-eye puppy from Bergen County who was attacked in July 2010.

Trainer Roger Woodhour told an Assembly committee earlier this month that although his dog survived severe physical injuries, he couldn’t continue serving because of emotional distress.

“Dusty’s Law” establishes a mandatory civil fine of $100 to $500 for a person who owns any animal which attacks, injures or interferes with a service dog, horse or other animal, including when it is in the process of being trained.

“This would be the first piece of legislation that affords this type of protection to service animals who provide assistance, as well as to those who are in training as well,” Schroeder said.

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