Service dogs now have new legal protections in New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie signed a bill that establishes criminal penalties for recklessly killing, injuring or interfering with a guide dog. The measure, nicknamed "Dusty's Law," was inspired by the death of a puppy (Dusty), who was in training to become a seeing-eye dog when he was viciously attacked by another dog. Dusty never fully recovered from his injuries, although he did survive the attack. He was so traumatized emotionally, though, that he was unable to finish his guide dog training.
The measure defines "guide dogs" as canines -- or canines in training -- that have been raised to assist in the rehabilitation of people who are blind or deaf, specifically with the help of volunteer trainers or organizations that have a background in providing canine rehabilitative assistance. Any person responsible for the reckless death or injury of a guide dog, whether by inflicting harm upon the dog themselves or by failing to prevent an attack by one of their own pets, can face up to 18 months in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both. Additionally, Dusty's Law makes it illegal for anyone to interfere with the use of a guide dog, in order to protect the safety of both guide dog and human companion.
New Jersey Assemblyman Scott Rumana, who championed the bill, emphasized how invaluable guide dogs can be for the humans they help. "For individuals who are blind, deaf or have vision or hearing impairments, [these dogs] are their eyes and ears," Rumana said in a statement. "This measure is a major step in recognizing the important role these vital animals play in assisting those with an impairment and sends a message that abusing or killing these animals will have significant repercussions."