UPDATE ON CONGO THE FAMILY PET.
Judge orders a stay of execution until a Superior Court Appeal and all dogs must be Tatooed branding them Potentially Dangerous!
PRINCETON TOWNSHIP -- A family whose beloved German shepherd faces death for having led a dog attack on a landscaper is devastated by the news but vows to continue to fight to save him.
"He needs to come home," said Guy James, the Princeton homeowner who managed to call his dogs off the landscaper, but only after the worker was severely mauled in the June 5 attack.
"He's innocent. He did nothing more than protect my wife. He never bit anyone until she was grabbed and pulled to the ground," James said.
Congo has been ruled vicious by a municipal judge and ordered put down.
"As a family, it's destroyed our way of living," said James, 46. "We're just consumed with the whole thing."
The landscaper, Giovanni Rivera, has won a $250,000 insurance settlement as a result of serious injuries he sustained in the attack, which occurred when he and others disobeyed instructions from James not to get out of their car until Congo and several other dogs on the property could be sequestered for safety.
Rivera, a Trenton man, was on the 10-acre, fenced property on Stuart Road to do yard work. The landscaping crew had arrived before 7 a.m., about an hour before they were expected.
James, who was about to take a shower, called out a window to them in Spanish, telling them to get back in their car and wait because the dogs were in the backyard being fed.
While the dogs, two 2 1/2-year-old German shepherds and their four 6-month-old puppies, had not had problems with people on the property before, James said in an interview that he didn't want them to interfere with the workers. Also, he wanted the workers to wait until he was dressed so that he could tell them what to do, he said.
Instead, Rivera and another worker got out of the car after a few minutes and the dogs began to bark. That worker began to hit the dogs with a metal rake and Elizabeth James, Guy James' wife, yelled for him to stop. Meanwhile, Rivera, who was afraid of the dogs, grabbed her from behind and pulled her to the ground, causing her to scream. At that point Congo began to bite and scratch Rivera and some of the puppies joined in.
"The whole thing was pretty terrifying," Elizabeth James said. "You can't imagine. I was scared. It happened extremely fast. I didn't have time to think."
Meanwhile, her 8-year-old son, Ben, ran into the house to get his father. Moments later, Guy James hurried out and called off the dogs.
Rivera, who was treated for bites at a local hospital, settled with the couple's insurance carrier for the $250,000, Guy James said.
Rivera's lawyer, Kevin Riechelson, said his client has scars from the dog bites and scratches that may be permanent on his arms, legs and torso. Rivera still suffers from numbness in his leg but is able to walk.
"He had a really deep wound on his right thigh," Riechelson said. "Luckily, his face wasn't touched."
In addition to the $250,000 settlement, the Jameses' insurer agreed to pay medical bills and worker's compensation claims for Rivera, Riechelson said.
The Jameses' children, especially Ben who witnessed the attack, have been "crying nonstop," Elizabeth James said. "They've been on an emotional rollercoaster." Their dog has been placed in a shelter while the court process plays out.
Hannah James, 11, wrote a letter to Judge Russell Annich Jr. saying in part, "I am so upset seeing my dog locked up in jail for doing his job. When my friends are over they play with and around Congo and have no problems. I want you to know that this is coming from my heart and I mean it with all my heart and soul. Actually, my broken heart. We will never ever forget this for the rest of our lives. You have made the wrong decision in my eyes."
And Congo, who is being held at Save a Friend of Homeless Animals, is depressed and anxious, Guy James said. He now has to be hand-fed or he will not eat.
Meanwhile, James' lawyer, Robert Lytle, argued at a hearing in Municipal Court that the attack had been provoked and under New Jersey law, the dogs had a right to protect themselves and their owner.
But some, including municipal prosecutor Kim Otis, argue that the Jameses should have had control over the dogs and were negligent.
Indeed, Judge Annich found that "the prevailing circumstances did not constitute provocation and that the attack upon Mr. Rivera, initiated by Congo and subsequently by the other dogs present, continuing unabated for three minutes, was a response grossly disproportionate to the prevailing situation."
Guy James pointed to testimony from dog behavior expert and University of Pennsylvania professor Ilana Reisner, who said that in her professional opinion James' dogs were "clearly provoked."
"Based on these threats (unfamiliar individuals, perceived threatening position, the attack on the puppies with a metal rake, grabbing the owner from behind and pulling to the ground) the dogs were compelled to defend themselves and their owner," Reisner wrote.
"I am so sorry for what happened but it was not out of viciousness," Guy James said. "This was a provoked attack and any dog would protect its owner in the same manner. I can't imagine that any dog -- who was beat with a rake, hard enough to cause bloody gashes, and then had its owner grabbed from behind -- would walk away without action."
Guy James also garnered statements from several people who had been on his property and attested to the dogs' friendly behavior, including John Pettenati, the township building inspector. In fact Pettenati nicknamed them "the happy dogs" because they were so pleasant.
Guy James said that while he and his family were waiting for their house to be finished they lived for several months at a hotel. During that time Congo and his mate, Lucia, interacted with maids and others and never caused a problem, he said.
James also sent Congo and Lucia to the American Dog School in Denver for obedience training. James stressed that the dogs were trained for obedience, not as guard dogs. The four puppies are currently at that school, he said. Five of their siblings were adopted and one of those dogs is being trained to be a police dog in Pennsylvania, Guy James said.
Meanwhile, an article in The Times and reports in other media outlets have spurred the public into action on Congo's behalf.
Kat McAfee of the Coalition for Action in the Interests of Animals has organized the Coalition to Free Congo. She expects hundreds to come to a rally Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the municipal building at 400 Witherspoon St. in Princeton.
McAfee said they hope to save Congo's life by "bringing pressure on the powers that be."
Annich is expected to place his ruling on the record Tuesday afternoon.
For his part, Guy James said he has received thousands of letters and e-mails and thanked those who have offered their support.
"Congo is a fantastic family pet who is loved by everyone we know and many we don't," James said. "We will not let this rest for the sake of all dogs and their owners, and most of all, our family and Congo."
Guy James plans to appeal Annich's ruling to Superior Court.
"We will fight with all our love and support from friends and strangers until he is back with us," he said.
CONGO THE GSD lost his court case today.
Judge upheld the death sentence!!
EVERYONE PLEASE WRITE & CALL
New Jersey Gov.Corzine
Urge him to OVERRIDE CONGO's DEATH SENTENCE
Gov.'s office is taking a numerical tally on how many people call - please call him
Office of the Governor PO Box 001 Trenton, NJ 08625
Email by going to his site: http://www.nj
. gov/governor/ govmail.html
NEW JERSEY RESIDENTS ESPECIALLY NEEDED!!!!!! !!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!
NY and PA residents also especially helpful...
For those not familiar with Congo's case:
1. two illegal immigrants were gardening at the family's house
2. they arrived an hour early
3. they were told by the husband to stay in their truck until he could get out of the shower and get some clothes on
4. the husband speaks Spanish and spoke to them in Spanish so there is no question they understand what they were told to do
5. they directly disobeyed the husband and walked into the backyard with the wife, who had just pulled into the driveway)
6. the two adult gsd's and their puppies came running
7. the gardeners paniced
8. ONE GARDENER GRABBED THE WIFE AND WRESTLED HER TO THE GROUND, USING HER AS A PROTECTIVE SHIELD
9. Congo thought his owner was being attacked and went after the gardener
10. The gardener used his rake to beat at the puppies and inflicted some injuries on them.
11. the gardener changed his story three times (interesting note on official bias: when the owner said the gardener changed his story five times, the dog warden said "No, he only changed his story 3 times.")
Thank you all~ Caroline & Critters