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Two Important Bills Would Impact NJ Dog Owners

(Wednesday, October 13, 2004)

New Jersey fanciers are currently facing two pieces of legislation that would directly affect dog ownership in the Garden State. The first, A1135, would prohibit insurance companies from discriminating against homeowners based on the breed of dog they own. A1135 passed out of committee with overwhelming support last week after dog owners turned out in large numbers at a public hearing on the bill. The legislation was combined with another bill (A2373) and now moves to the full Assembly for consideration under this new number. However, dog-friendly legislators report that the insurance industry has begun lobbying to kill A2373 and that strong support must be heard from all New Jersey dog owners if this positive legislation is to become law.

What You Can Do:
• Contact your Assembly member and ask him or her to support A2373. (To find your legislator’s contact information, visit http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp.

• Contact Assemblyman Joseph Roberts (the Assembly’s Majority Leader) and ask him to place A2373 on the calendar for a vote.

The Honorable Joseph Roberts
State House Box 098
Trenton, NJ 08625-0098
Phone: (856) 742-7600
Fax: (856) 742-1831, asmroberts@njleg.org

A second bill being considered by New Jersey lawmakers (S1718) would have a very negative impact dog owners. Although the breed-specific legislation has not seen movement since its introduction in June, S1718 (known as the “Responsible Pit Bull Ownership Act”) is very much alive. It is extremely important that New Jersey dog owners express their opposition to legislators regarding this discriminatory bill.

S1718 Would Allow a Municipality To:
• Require a special license for all “pit bulls” ($150-700)—including “American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Terriers and any dog determined to be a pit bull type.” Licenses may be denied to anyone who has been convicted of a criminal offense or animal cruelty, as well as anyone who lives with someone convicted of those crimes.

• Require anyone who owns a dog to prove that it ISN'T a pit bull (municipality will visually inspect the dog to determine whether it is a pit bull). Very few municipalities have staff with any breed identification knowledge or experience.

• Require confinement in a permanent enclosure (including a secure pen AND a 6-ft. fence).

• Require pit bulls to be muzzled when off owner's property and leashed (3-feet long or less). Also, the leash must be approved by an animal control officer.

• Send an animal control officer to inspect the enclosure and the licensee's property at least monthly.

• Require liability insurance for owners.

• Violators are subject to fine up to $1000/day.

• Seized dogs will be placed in no-kill shelter until properly adopted or until the dog dies of natural causes.

S1718 is nearly identical to a bill sponsored by Senator James in 2003, which died in committee following strong opposition to its companion bill—Assemblyman Burzichelli’s A2906. The American Kennel Club, the New Jersey Federation of Dog Clubs, and countless Garden State dog owners worked tirelessly to educate lawmakers about the ineffectiveness of breed-specific legislation last year, yet Senator James seems determined to try again.

What You Can Do:
• Contact the members of the Senate Committee on Economic Growth, Agriculture and Tourism, where the bill has been referred. Tell them you oppose S1718 and ask them to do the same!

Senate Committee on Economic Growth, Agriculture and Tourism
Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D) [Chair] (Phone: 908/624-0880, Fax: 908/353-2174, SenLesniak@njleg.org)
Sen. Joseph Doria (D) [Vice Chair] (Phone: 201/451-5100, no e-mail)
Sen. Martha Bark (R) (Phone: 856/234-8080, Fax: 856/234-3990, senbark@njleg.org)
Sen. Joseph M. Kyrillos (R) (Phone: 732/671-3206, Fax: 732/706-9140, no e-mail)
Sen. Joseph Vitale (D) (Phone:732/855-7441, senvitale@njleg.org)

• Contact the bill’s sponsor and express your opposition to S1718.

Senator Sharpe James
District Office Address: 50 Park Place, Suite 1535
Newark, NJ 07102
973) 622-0007, SenJames@njleg.org

Points to Consider:
• Breed-specific laws are unfair to responsible owners of the restricted breeds. Deeds, not breeds, should be the determining factor.

• NJ state law prohibits determining a dog dangerous based on breed alone. S1718 violates existing state law.

• NJ has a good dangerous dog law in place—the key to solving dangerous dog problems is not to pass arbitrary new restrictions but to enforce the existing law.

• Strongly enforced dangerous dogs laws—like the existing NJ state law—will force all owners to be responsible, regardless of what breed they own.

• Breed-specific laws increase costs for the community. Administrative costs, enforcement costs, and shelter costs will increase under S1718.

• Countless national animal organizations—American Kennel Club, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, National Animal Control Association, National Animal Interest Alliance, and others—oppose breed-specific legislation because they know it simply doesn’t work. No animal welfare group supports these bills.

For more information, contact:
AKC Canine Legislation Dept.
919-816-3720
doglaw@akc.org

NJ Federation of Dog Clubs
http://www.njfederationofdogclubs.org