I’m On Your Side

New Jersey lawmakers push for more responsible dog ownership

In an effort to protect New Jersey residents against dog attacks, law makers look to strengthen fencing and leashing laws.

In May of this year, police responded to a call for help from a New Jersey residence where an American Bulldog was reportedly mauling a 57-year-old woman. According to the Hunterdon Review, the dog turned on the woman when she tried to get it to stop attacking her 82-year-old mother-in-law. The 57-year-old suffered bites on her leg, arms and her chest. The dog, whose owner was not present at the time, had a record of two prior attacks.

This event occurred not even two weeks after New Jersey lawmakers proposed legislation to strengthen leash and fencing laws in the state. The measurement could prevent unnecessary attacks and their devastating consequences.

Proposed legislation

Statistics from DogsBite.org note that 40 percent of all fatal dog attacks in 2014 occurred off the owners’ property. One of those incidents involved a 13-year-old New Jersey teen. NJ1015 reported that the boy died after a Bullmastiff attacked him in his neighborhood.

Spurred by that event and similar attacks, several state lawmakers introduced the Responsible Dog Ownership Act to the assembly in early May this year. The bill asks that the Department of Health do the following:

  • Set standards for the leashing and restraining of larger breeds.
  • Determine the size of the dog that would necessitate fencing.
  • Ascertain what the height of that fencing should be.

The bill also establishes penalties for those who violate the Endangering Welfare of Children Act. Owners who either knowingly or recklessly let their dogs roam freely through a residential neighborhood or public space could face legal repercussions should this bill pass.

Dog bite statistics

NJ105 reports that a State Farm Insurance study found that New Jersey ranked 15th among the top states where the insurer has had to pay dog bite claims. New Jersey had 86 claims filed and $4.3 million paid. This year, NJ1015 notes that the state has moved into 10th place, as 101 claims were paid in 2014 for a total of $6.4 million.

Across the country, roughly 1,000 people seek emergency medical care every day following a dog attack, DogsBite.org reports. A study conducted by the organization found that pit bulls account for the majority of both off-property attacks and fatal incidents.

Current laws

According to the New Jersey Department of Health, there are certain safety measurements that every dog owner must take such as either vaccinating the animal against rabies or having a certificate of exemption. Additionally, a dog must have a license and tag in the municipality in which it lives.

As a statutory strict liability state, New Jersey places the responsibility of the damages associated with a dog bite on the owner of the animal. However, there is an exemption for dog bite victims who were trespassing on the owner’s property or those who were acting negligently around the animal.

Safety tips

While New Jersey residents await the outcome of this measurement, the American Kennel Club offers advice for those interacting with dogs. For example, people should avoid approaching dogs that are not with their owners or dogs that are either sleeping or eating. Dogs with their puppies may be especially protective and should not be bothered. Lastly, the AKC advises people against reaching through fences to pet dogs.

When dog bites do occur, people should seek the necessary medical treatment and the advice of an attorney.

Keywords: dog, animal, attack, bite, injury