Earlier this week New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill that imposes a mandatory five (5) year sentence without parole for killing a police dog. The introduction of this law brings with it a mix of cautious optimisim and trepidation.
Initially, it’s encouraging to see a law with force behind it for the protection of animals. As this blawg has noted, animals in the United States receive very little help from our laws. Under the new law, “those found guilty of killing a police dog or a dog engaged in a search and rescue operation would receive a mandatory minimum five-year prison term, with no eligibility for parole, and a $15,000 fine.” That’s a major change from previous New Jersey criminal law concerning animals; abuse, and abuse that leads to death, is a disorderly persons offense, a misdemeanor that is located in the agricultural subsection of the New Jersey Code. Now purposefully killing a dog is a third degree felony, and one that has a parole disqualifier, which is rare for third degree offenses. Maiming a dog, without killing, is a fourth degree felony.
But before animal rights advocates champion this law, we must step back and look at what is actually happening. This is being called “Schultz’s Law,” so named for a German Shepard police dog, Schultz, who was killed while pursuing a suspect. According to police allegations, when Schultz grabbed the arm of the suspect to apprehend him, the suspect purposefully flung Schultz into oncoming traffic. Schultz died from injuries sustained when a car hit him.
As tragic as Schultz’s death is, the reaction is worse. This law is a child of the uproar from the officers who cared for Schultz, and from an upset community in Washington Township that had grown accustomed to Schultz’s presence at community events. His death occurred in late November, 2010. Put that into perspective; animal advocates have been fighting for years to increase, or even create, penalties for animal abusers, and this bill moved into law in less than a year. What that tells us is that it is a reactionary law, a stringent one at that, and those kinds of actions have traditionally caused future unforeseen problems. Even if this is the appropriate penalty for killing an animal, it should be enacted because it has always been wrong, not solely because of a high profile death.
More importantly, this is not a law about animal rights; this is a law to protect police. That isn’t to say there should not be laws protecting officers. If this, however, were really about protecting animals, there would be no reason not to extend the same consequences to the purposeful killing of any dog. Yet again, all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. A German Shepard, picked for no other reason than he is particularly obedient, means more to New Jersey than a mutt, or a less well-behaved German Shepard.
It will be interesting to see how often and to what extent Schultz’s law will be enforced, and to see how it is argued by both defense and prosecuting attorneys. Until then, what we should take away is that it is possible to push strong animal protection bills through the legislature, so long as there is sufficient and outspoken public support. Hopefully overdue overarching laws will find their ways into the books for the right reasons.