11 enero 2008

Congo the Dog Ignites Immigration Debate

A dog scheduled to be put down after mauling a gardener from Honduras has ignited a debate over immigration and dog owners' rights in this university town.

The gardener, Giovanni Rivera, was attacked in June by a German shepherd named Congo and four other dogs at a Princeton home where he did landscaping. Charges were filed against the family who owned the dogs, and Rivera received an insurance settlement of $250,000.

But it's a judge's decision that the dog must be put down that has drawn criticism from some animal lovers and the dog's owners, who say Congo was protecting their property and family.

"It's just insanity what we're going through," Guy James said, sitting in his Princeton home with his wife, Elizabeth, as Congo and another German shepherd sat nearby. The James said the judge's decision to put Congo down has been "horrendous" for the couple and their four young children.

James contends the men showed up early when the dogs were eating, and disregarded his calls for them to stay in their vehicle. He said Congo attacked Rivera after the panicked gardener grabbed his wife from behind and pulled her down, causing her to scream.

Rivera's lawyer, Kevin S. Riechelson, said his client, who is still in New Jersey, did not want to speak about the incident because he was scared after the public outcry over the decision to put the dog down. But Riechelson and Kim Otis, the prosecutor who handled the case, described the attack as unprovoked, saying Rivera never pulled Elizabeth James down to the ground.

In addition, Riechelson said the men were told by their temp agency to show up for work early that day.

Rivera, who was hospitalized for five days, sustained "hundreds and hundreds of cuts," including a deep gash in his right thigh, according to Otis.

"They basically bit and clawed him for about three minutes," Riechelson said.

Public debate over the incident has even reached the office of Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who said last week that while he sympathizes with the dog, he's leaving the animal's fate up to the courts.

The governor's office has received more telephone calls, e-mails, letters and faxes about Congo than about any other issue since the governor took office. Almost everyone has demanded Congo be freed, a governor's spokesman said.

Much of the public discussion has centered on Rivera's immigration status. Neither Riechelson, the James family, their lawyer, or the prosecutor said they know whether Rivera is here legally, nor do they care, saying that it wasn't relevant to the case.

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