New Jersey Senate Bill May Give Dogs A Second Chance At A Loving Home
Four years ago, Pandora, a pit bull terrier, was seized from a dog fighting ring in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Then called Valentine or Baby V, she was used as bait to train fighting dogs.
After spending a year in the Chester County SPCA as evidence, Pandora found a permanent home with Caroline Braslow and her family in Voorhees, Camden County.
She continues to live with injuries of an abusive past, including missing her right eye, one side of her mouth closed, physical scars and possible cognitive damage. During her rescue, she also underwent surgery for a hole in her face that went up through the roof of her mouth.
"She really has no idea that she has these physical differences. Sometimes she'll try to look at you through the eye that doesn't exist," Braslow said.
Despite the injuries, Pandora, now 8, is a healthy and happy animal. She loves sprawling out on people's laps, going for car rides, digging holes in the backyard and playing with Braslow's 4-year-old rottweiler, Goose, and one-and-a-half-year-old pit bull, Olive.
New Jersey is one of 10 states remaining that stigmatizes victims of dog fighting, but legislation moving its way through the state Senate may now give dogs like Pandora a second chance at a loving home.
The Senate Economic Growth Committee on May 31 approved a bill by a 5-0 vote that would redefine criteria for declaring a dog vicious or potentially dangerous.
Sponsored by Sen. Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, and Vin Gopal, D-11th of Monmouth, S1923 would remove the requirement that would allow a municipal court to declare a dog potentially dangerous if the animal engaged in dog-fighting activities.
The bill also would change requirements around declaring a dog vicious when it comes to unprovoked attacks on domestic animals and individuals.
The same legislation was introduced by Assemblyman Tim Eustace, D-38th of Bergen and Passaic, and Eric Houghtaling, D-11th of Monmouth.
"I just think this has the potential to save a bunch of dogs who don't need to be euthanized due to circumstances that are out of their control," said Alea Couch, policy coordinator for Singleton.
Though New Jersey's current law does not name specific breeds, pit bull terriers are most often used in dog fighting in the United States, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
If New Jersey were to pass a breed-discrimination law, it would impact more than 7,500 "pit-bull-terrier-like" dogs, and cost approximately $750,000 annually, according to the Best Friends Animal Society, a national nonprofit organization and animal sanctuary.
The majority goes towards enforcement costs, followed by kenneling and vet care, litigation fees, DNA testing, and euthanization and disposal of the animals.
One of the most well-known cases of dog fighting involved former NFL quarterback Michael Vick in 2007. Out of the 49 dogs involved, all but one were placed positively, said A.J. Albrecht, attorney at the Best Friends Animal Society. Some even went on to become therapy dogs and family pets.
"So we're really looking for dogs to have that second chance to be evaluated as individuals to determine what life they can lead after this horrendous abuse that they've suffered," Albrecht said.
Jamie DePolo, board member at the Friends of Burlington County Animal Shelter, said historically pit bulls were bred as "nanny dogs" because they interacted well with children, but eventually people began to take advantage of the breed's love, loyalty and desire to please.
The organization has previously hosted Pit Bull Awareness Days focused on dismantling myths about the breed, and making adoption easier.
"I blame people for the reputation surrounding pit bulls because people are the ones that train them, people are the ones that made them fight, and people are the ones that hang on to the stereotype," said DePolo. "We just want to get the facts out there and educate people."