Service Dog Protection Law in N.J.

Legislation signed this week establishes penalties for harming guide dogs
By JoAnna Lou, January 2014
Earlier this week, New Jersey signed Dusty's Law into effect, establishing criminal penalties for hurting, or even interfering with, a service dog. To date, it's one of the most comprehensive guide dog protection laws passed by a state.

Previously police had to refer these cases over to animal control agencies that didn't always have the resources to immediately investigate. Proponents of the bipartisan legislation see Dusty's Law as critical since a hurt or dead service dog puts their person in imminent danger.

The Law is named for Dusty, a German Shepherd puppy who was mauled by a dog in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. when he was out being trained for guide dog duties. Dusty was fortunate to survive the ordeal, but lost four teeth and suffered psychological trauma that kept him from continuing his work in The Seeing Eye program. His puppy raiser also sustained permanent injuries in the attack.

Because of their non-aggressive nature and loyalty to staying by their person, service dogs are particularly susceptible to an attack. According to a study by The Seeing Eye, 44 percent of guide dog users had experienced at least one attack by another animal and more than 80 percent said they'd had some kind of interference by another animal.

Under Dusty's Law, offenses are punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, depending on the severity. The law also requires restitution if a service dog is killed or injured, which can include the animal's value, veterinary bills, and lost income.

While this law won't make guide dogs any less vulnerable, it will hopefully provide the protection needed to lessen attacks. I hope more states will adopt similar laws!

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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