Gov. Chris Christie signed into law Friday legislation that boosts criminal penalties for recklessly actions against guide dogs. The bill was sponsored by District 26 Asw. Betty Lou DeCroce and Assembly Republican Whip Scott Rumana.
The bill, called “Dusty’s Law,” is named after Dusty, a seeing-eye puppy in Bergen County who was still in training to assist a visually impaired person when he was attacked in July 2010. Though the dog survived his serious physical injuries, he was unable to continue in the training program due to the emotional trauma he suffered.
“Guide dogs and guide-dogs-in-training are bred to have a docile, obedient nature,” said DeCroce, a Republican who represents parts of Morris, Essex and Passaic counties. "Unfortunately, this gentle demeanor often brings out the worst in aggressive dogs. Currently, even the most serious dog-on-guide-dog attack is not considered a criminal act.
"This legislation is needed to ensure that reckless dog owners are held responsible when such attacks occur.”
“It’s important that we not only recognize the vital role these animals play in assisting those with an impairment, but that we afford them the protections they deserve,” he continued. “This measure sends a message that abusing or killing these dogs will have significant repercussions.”
Specifically, the legislation will make it a fourth-degree crime for a person to recklessly kill a guide dog, or to recklessly permit a dog that he or she owns or has immediate control over to kill a guide dog. A person who recklessly injures a guide dog, or recklessly permits a dog that he or she owns or has immediate control over to injure a guide dog will be a disorderly person under the bill.
In addition, a person who recklessly interferes with the use of a guide dog, or who recklessly permits a dog that he or she owns or over which he or she has immediate control to interfere with a guide dog by obstructing, intimidating, or otherwise jeopardizing the safety of that guide dog or its handler would be guilty of a petty disorderly persons offense.
Fourth-degree crimes are punishable by a prison term of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. Disorderly persons offenses are punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to six months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both; petty disorderly persons offenses are punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 30 days, a fine of up to $500, or both.
The bill also requires someone convicted under the law to pay restitution, which includes the value of the guide dog; replacement and training or retraining expenses for the guide dog and the handler; veterinary and other medical and boarding expenses for the guide dog; medical expenses for the handler; and lost wages or income incurred by the handler during any period that the handler is without the services of the guide dog.
Under the measure, a “guide dog” is defined as a dog, or dog in training, which has been or is being raised or trained by a volunteer puppy raiser or staff member of an organization generally recognized as being involved in the rehabilitation of the blind or deaf and reputable and competent to provide dogs with specialized training; or is fitted with a special harness so as to be suitable as an aid to the mobility of a blind person.