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Dog Owners Fighting Borough Over Fate of Locked Up Pups

Two dogs, now impounded going on four weeks after an alleged attack earlier this month, have been in the middle of an increasingly public effort by their owners to free them.

Following an alleged attack by their two dogs earlier this month, Hope Alexander and her mother, Mary Watts, have been fighting for the pets' release from the Fair Lawn pound, where the borough is holding them as potentially dangerous pending a municipal court date.

The dogs broke free from Alexander’s home on Jan. 3, after she says a family friend left the gate open. Cosgrove, a 180-pound Mastiff/Great Dane mix, and Wilson, a 80-pound boxer, allegedly attacked a smaller dog and its owner three blocks away at the intersection of Hedman Place and Stelton Terrace.

According to a police report, officers responded to find the two dogs circling the victim of the alleged attack. Both he and his dog were bleeding, the report says, though he could not be sure whether Cosgrove, Wilson, or both were responsible.

The victim was transported by ambulance to Hackensack University Medical Center, and the dog was taken to Valley Brook Animal Hospital, where it died “as a result of the injuries,” according to Borough Manager Tom Metzler.

The victim could not be reached for comment.

Cosgrove and Wilson were initially quarantined for a period of ten days, to be sure the dogs were free of rabies, although according to Health Department records both were up to date on their shots.

Alexander maintains that her dogs are not violent, and that their guilt in the Jan. 3 incident has not been proven.

“I was in shock, because my dogs have always been calm, afraid of their own shadow,” Alexander said, adding that she expected the quarantine to be over at the expiration of the 10-day period, and to have her dogs returned home.

In a letter from the Health Department dated Jan. 16, director Carol Wagner wrote that Alexander’s dogs “have not shown any signs/symptoms of rabies and thereby have been released from quarantine.”

This followed a settlement in municipal court Jan. 9, in which Wagner agreed to release the dogs under the conditions that Alexander install a padlock on her gates, and agree to muzzle and keep the dogs on a short leash when walking them.

But Metzler and the borough council overrode the settlement, leading Alexander to take her cause to the public.

The Facebook page she created, "Justice for Cosgrove and Wilson," has attracted over 400 followers since it was created last Thursday, and the petition circulated for the dogs’ release has accumulated over 700 signatures.

But the borough disputes the account of the story posted on the page, which argues that there was little indication of blood on the scene and that the town is holding the dogs to set an example.

“I feel very helpless,” the first post on the page, dated Jan. 24, reads. “I am one person against an entire town set on proving a point at the expense of my mild mannered oblivious pets.”

Metzler said he doesn’t believe “her interpretation of the story is reflective of what transpired.”

“I do not believe that the owner of the dogs that we are holding has any idea of the severity of the attack,” he added. “Obviously it was not just a simple dog bite.”

While the dogs have been cleared for rabies, the borough argues, the issue of whether they pose a danger to the public needs to be decided by the court, and the settlement reached between Alexander and the Health Department was never final.

“The health officer does not have the authority to enter into an agreement, nor did I give her that authority,” Metzler told Patch. “Her interpretation at the time was that what she said [in court] was subject to approval.”

The matter was brought before the council, which decided to turn it back over to the prosecutor, and the borough and Alexander’s attorney are now wrangling over whether the settlement reached on Jan. 9 will stand.

“My office was never advised of the mayor and [council] session,” Alexander’s attorney, Michael D. Baer, wrote in a letter to the court.

“It is unfortunate, that they now, at such a late date, object to the terms and conditions entered into by one of their borough staff who testified on the record under oath that she was authorized to resolve the matter and therefore, bind the Borough. It just does not seem fair, just and equitable.”

“I’ve sat back for three weeks, doing everything the town wants me to do,” Alexander said, adding that since the incident, she has had to wrestle with the uncertainty of her dogs’ fate as well as incur $3,000 in legal and impoundment fees.

But Metzler contends that, despite some confusion generated by misunderstandings between government officials over where authority on the matter lay, the borough has followed its regular procedures in handling the incident.

State law provides that a municipal court may decide a dog is “potentially dangerous” if it kills another domestic animal, and require the dog to have special licenses and monitoring by municipal officials. It can only be euthanized if it is determined that it inflicted serious bodily harm to a person, or if the owner later violates the conditions set by the court for ownership of the dog.

“I think we need to do our due diligence,” Metzler said, “because if that dog was living next door to me and I saw the pictures [from the incident], and I had a 2-year-old, I don’t know how comfortable I’d feel.”

He added that it is not within his office’s purview to decide the matter, but he believes the borough has a responsibility to have the case decided in court on the issue of the potential safety concerns raised by the dogs.

“We’re waiting for guidance from the court at this point,” he said.

But Alexander maintains that the dogs have no history of violence, and says that after a 2011 incident involving a former pet, which according to police records was contained on her own property, she had the dog put down.

And she says that her effort in publicizing her current predicament is in part to help other dog owners understand the trouble she’s been through due to the brief escape of her pets.

“I felt the public needed to know because this can happen to anyone,” she said.

A hearing to decide whether the Jan. 9 settlement will stand is scheduled for Wednesday.

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Hope Alexander February 16, 2013 at 11:58 PM
FYI...Both educated, qualified animal control officers have deemed both my dogs safe and NON aggressive, at least one of the FLPD officers has vouched for the gentle NON aggressive behavior of my dogs to his superior becausee he knows them personally, ALL FLPD officers that have come in contact with my dogs have had nothing but nice things to say and have never felt threatened by either of my dogs, i have had an experienced, certified dog behaviorist evaluate both dogs and in his professional opinion both dogs are gentle and NON aggressive.
Hope Alexander February 16, 2013 at 11:59 PM
since the town is making the yorkie photos available maybe the photos of the gentleman's injuries should be made available as well, considering he is claiming substantial permament damage, those photos are pics of tiny scratches and tiny teeth marks, and considering the police report states he was holding his yorkie thru most of the altercation its very evident that his wounds could not have been inflicted by a 180 lb mastiff or an 80 lb boxer.....BUT OF COURSE THE TOWN ISNT COMMENTING ON THOSE PHOTOS!!! i hate this whole situation happened but i have done all i know to do to make things as right as they can be, ive gotten rid of my house guest that left the gate open, ive complied with ALL the town has asked of me as stated in the settlement made with the health dept on the record in the fairlawn court before its judge and then some, this settlement was made by an authorized health dept officer approved by her supervisor who was PRESENT in the back of the court room during the court hearing the settlement was made in,
Hope Alexander February 16, 2013 at 11:59 PM
Cosgrove and Wilson served their 10 quarantine and were signed off by a licensed NJ vet and i recvd the release paperwork, yet the town STILL refused to release by family pets, MY furry family members.....they have now been in puppy prison for 44 days, they are the ONLY dogs to ever stay longer than the standard 10 day quarantine, not to mention the majority of dog owners were given the option to have their pets serve their quarantine AT HOME!!! i was never given that option. ... MY BOYS ARE NOT THE JEFFREY DAHMER OF THE CANINE WORLD THEY ARE BEING MADE OUT TO BE!!!!!
Hope Alexander February 17, 2013 at 12:06 AM
i have NEVER claimed complete innocence of either of my dogs, although it did come as a complete shock consider they have no history of aggression of violence and ive never even heard them growl!!!!! what i have stated is that ALL dogs small or large are capable of aggression and while God did not supply animal with a conscience or ability to reason in situation they were given the instinct to protect themselves and ANY dog will do that if they feel threatened.... http://www.dogbreedinfo.com/articles/smalltoydogs.htm im sorry the incident took place im sorry the yorkie did not make it but an eye for an eye mentality is not how this should be handled....my vet vouches for COz and Wilsons temperament in his office, Jeff Coltenback, a well know educated, experienced animal behaviorist has evaluated both boys and vouches for their gentle demeanor, both animal control officers refused to sign them off as dangerous bc they vouch for their gentle nature......what more can i do???
Hope Alexander February 17, 2013 at 12:16 AM
Wilson was the victim in the 2011 incident in my home, the pitt i had attacked and almost killed Wilson. I later found out that the breeder i got him from put my pitts mother down very recently after giving borth bc she attacked and bit several ppl. GENETICS??? i tried to find a home or shelter that would take my pitt but no one would so i did the responsible thing and took him to my vets office and had him put down while i cried holding him, i did what was necessary to make sure he didnt hurt anyone else...i am very aware how to train dogs and i train them all the same small and large.....unlike some who get small dogs and think their bad/aggressive behavior is cute, ITS NOT...I know enough that small dogs are very capable of being aggressive and very capable of making any size dog feel threatened. Dogs dont see size, they see a threat, and thier God given instinc tis to protect.

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