ROXBURY, NJ – Those who don't control their dogs in Roxbury will have to appear in court and, if found guilty, pay a fine of at least $50 under an ordinance revision introduced this week.
Currently, first offenders of the township leash law are not required to show up for a municipal court hearing. Additionally, the fine for a first offense is currently only $5 to $50.
Under the new law, the first offense fines will be $50 to $200. Fines for subsequent violations - taking place within five years of the first - would be $300 to $1,000 or up to 90 days in jail or up to 90 days of community service or any combination.
The proposed amendment to the code is a response by the Roxbury Mayor and Council to a complaint made last fall by Succasunna resident Annette Brooks. She said the current law inadequately punished a person on her street whose aggressive dog traumatized her dog and family by charging at them several times.
A Canine Controversy
Brooks said she ended up having to spend $90 per week on a dog trainer to help alleviate the behavioral changes suffered by her young golden retriever/poodle mix, named Molly, due to the scary behavior of the female German shepherd up the street.
She said the first incident took place when the shepherd was being walked past her house by a 19-year-old woman who couldn't control it. “The dog pulled the girl right up on my lawn trying to go after Molly,” Brooks said in a letter to the township.
Her 22-year-old daughter “was in the middle of it, trying to keep my dog safe,” said Brooks, adding the police told her that nothing could be done.
Later in the summer, the shepherd’s owners installed an electric fence. Nevertheless, one day the shepherd “with no hesitation” about the fence, “came charging out from the backyard intending to attack” Molly, Brooks said.
“My son managed to tackle the dog and hold her down until someone came out of the house to get her,” Brooks said. “Again, it was reported to the police, and this time an animal-at-large summons was issued. Again, we were told nothing else could be done because she hadn't actually bitten someone.“
Brooks said she was “told in error that the summons required a court appearance,” so she left work early on the court date and went to Town Hall to observe the case.
“I sat there for two hours and then found out that the (shepherd’s) owner left because she was told that court appearances are not required in Roxbury," Brooks said. "The summons had been written by the Randolph animal control officer, since Roxbury's was on medical leave ... Randolph requires a court appearance with every offense, and the first offense fine starts at $100, but is discretionary.”
Brooks urged the council to put more teeth into the ordinance so dog owners will be compelled to better control aggressive canines.
“I know many probably think I am being dramatic,” she said. “Something needs to be done about the consequences related to an animal at large offense. Let's face it; no one is calling the police because a friendly dog got out of their home accidentally and is trotting down the street.”
But her fear of the shepherd is real and it impacted her life, insisted Brooks.
“I've been walking Molly at Horseshoe (Lake) whenever possible because, for the first time in 28 years living here, I don't feel safe walking in my own neighborhood,” Brooks said. “I am afraid to sit in my own backyard because I am afraid this dog will hear Molly outside and run right into my yard.”
In discussing the proposed ordinance amendment, Roxbury Township Manager John Shepherd pointed out that the recommended change "gives the judge some latitude ... based on the demeanor and the circumstances of the actual violation that occurred."
The proposal is scheduled for a second reading, and adoption on Feb. 11. A public hearing will precede the council's vote.
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