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New Jersey German Shepherd Congo Goes Home, Under House Arrest and Death Sentence Temporarily Delayed

It's good to know Congo is home for now. Unfortunately, it looks like we need to keep an eye on this situation to make sure...

Joy  |  Nov 20th 2007


It’s good to know Congo is home for now. Unfortunately, it looks like we need to keep an eye on this situation to make sure we do what we can to keep Congo safe.

I normally support local animal control officers but I have to seriously question Township animal control Officer Mark Johnson’s credentials for working with dogs. How anyone could generalize that Congo would attack other humans after this case is beyond me.

Thanks to The Times for this article.

Congo goes home
Dog released to his family pending appeal of death sentence
Friday, November 16, 2007
BY LINDA STEIN

Congo, the Princeton Township German shepherd put on death row after mauling a contractor, is safe at home with his family and his mate after a judge signed an order yesterday releasing him.

Wearing a court-ordered muzzle, the high-spirited dog burst from the confines of Save a Friend Animal Shelter of Princeton Township, where he was caged since the day after the June 5 incident that occurred in the Stuart Road West yard of Guy and Elizabeth James. Perhaps sensing that their lawyer, Robert Lytle, had something to do with his release, Congo jumped up to greet him and Brandon, 14, the eldest of the four James children.

Yesterday, Superior Court Judge Mitchel Ostrer signed a consent order granting a reprieve for Congo pending an appeal of a lower court judge’s ruling that declared the 2 1/2 -year-old dog vicious, a label that automatically requires that he be put down.

“It’s so great to have him home,” said Elizabeth James. “This is one big step in the right direction and it’s the right step to propel us to Superior Court where, hopefully, we’ll have Congo back for good and not have to wonder what will happen next.”

In the consent order, which was also signed by Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Doris Galuchie, who will be handling the case, Ostrer ordered that Congo wear a muzzle whenever he’s outside of the James’ house and that he be tethered on a leash when outside. However, once the township animal control officer approves the fence that now encircles the family’s 10-acre property, Congo will no longer need to be leashed. Also, except when receiving medical treatment, Congo must remain on the James’ property unless the animal control officer gives prior approval. The officer has the right to make periodic unannounced visits to the exterior of the property to ensure the court order is being followed.

“Given the strict conditions in the order, the community will not be at risk,” Galuchie said. Meanwhile, the notice of appeal of Municipal Court Judge Russell Annich Jr.’s ruling has been filed and the transcript of the two-day Municipal Court trial has been requested, Galuchie said. Obtaining the transcript will take about three weeks.

“I wouldn’t expect anything to happen realistically until January,” Galuchie said.

“I can’t comment on the likelihood of success on the appeal until I read the transcripts. Our office is not taking a position until we have read the transcripts and we reviewed the case law. We need to review all the pertinent law and the transcripts. Congo will get a fair hearing, but in the meantime he is under house arrest.”

While Ostrer declined to say if he is a dog owner, sources told The Times that Galuchie owns a beagle.

Annich upheld his ruling on Tuesday despite the protests of more than 100 human and canine supporters who turned out to protest at the township municipal building. Annich, who said he has received death threats over the case, was inundated with hundreds of e-mails, calls and letters.

Annich’s ruling came after a two-day trial in September. Annich found that Congo had not been provoked when he bit and scratched landscaper Giovanni Rivera, who was badly injured by the dogs after he failed to heed Guy James’ warnings to wait in the car while the dogs were being fed. But Rivera, and four other workers, seeing that Elizabeth James was in the yard, got out of their car, according to court records.

The dogs, Congo, his mate, Lucia, and three of their four 6-month-old puppies ran around the house and began barking. While one worker swung a rake at the dogs, Rivera grabbed Elizabeth James, causing her to scream, according to accounts police and the James family. Elizabeth James claims that she was pulled down to the ground by the frantic Rivera who was trying to escape from the dogs, but township officials contend she did not fall. Annich found that Lucia and three of the puppies that took part in the attack were potentially dangerous. That ruling gives the Jameses 60 days to comply with a long list of requirements, including tattooing. However, Annich stayed Congo’s death sentence, pending appeal.

Lytle, the James’ lawyer, argued that the dogs were clearly, albeit unintentionally, provoked by the gardeners and under the state dog laws should not be held liable.

Township animal control Officer Mark Johnson said he and Kim A. Otis, the municipal prosecutor, argued against releasing Congo from the shelter during the appeal process. Johnson also said that he had insisted that the order include various conditions and limitations.

“They were going to send the dog home with no regulations,” he said. Johnson worries that Congo will attack someone again but hopes that, “Mr. James follows the court order.” Johnson said Congo was “perfectly fine” at the shelter and there “was nothing wrong with the dog being there.”

“There, I can guarantee nobody’s going to be attacked or mauled again,” Johnson said. With Congo back home, though, “It’s no longer in my hands,” he said. The Jameses did not have to post any kind of financial guarantee that Congo will remain with them, al though that is the expectation and requirement. Johnson said he made no request for Congo to wear a tracking device as a condition of his release.

Lytle made an impassioned but fruitless plea before Annich on Tuesday, saying that Congo was depressed, shedding and losing weight in the shelter.

Rivera’s lawyer, Kevin Rieschel son, who previously said that his client bears the dog no ill will, said yesterday that he was surprised that he had been allowed to return to his home. Rivera received a $250,000 settlement from the James’ insurer plus medical ex penses.

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