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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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Yudy January 30, 2013 at 06:10 PM
If the yorkie didn't die of kidney failure then what caused the death? If you have been following the story many people have read the same thing. Also if a big dog attacks me I would remember what it looks like. There was a brown dog and a black dog ,that's enough of a difference to be able to pick one. I'm pretty sure the owner of the yorkie knows his colors. At the end of the day facts are missing and if the facts aren't clear these dogs should not be punished.
Kath H January 30, 2013 at 06:49 PM
I don't know who's right & who's wrong here, but the only person who was there is the man whose dog died. He could be, as some have said, planning a lawsuit, & if that's the case, his lawyer would advise him not to post in a public forum. So maybe that's why he's not speaking up. I find it quite interesting that people on both sides of this issue - none of whom were there - are stating that they know the "facts" & pointing fingers at others for doing the same thing. I'm an animal lover myself, & as such, I have to question people having large dogs, often more than 1, in a typical Fair Lawn home - or any small suburban home. It seems to be, at least, unkind to confine such a large dog as a Great Dane, a Mastiff, etc. to a small home or even a fenced in yard. Just because you like that breed, doesn't mean that the dog enjoys his/her living space. No one can ask the dog, but I wonder how it would answer. They don't really get to run or exercise - even in a dog park. I mean - I'd love a horse, but even if it were allowed, I certainly wouldn't consider keeping one in my back yard. I'm just asking that people consider the animal when you are taking one into your home. If your home is average size, don't think what YOU want, think of the animal and it's needs. And yes, I know that shelter animals need homes, but perhaps they could do a little trading around so that the larger animals get more of a chance to find a home with a really large yard out in the country.
amazed at the ignorance January 30, 2013 at 11:05 PM
i cannot believe how many times you have posted....it was originally reported that there was no blood no marks on either the dog nor the owner...now there is? i want to see the proof. the dog reportedly died as a result of kidney failure as per the vet. get your facts straight...and while you're doing that get a life, a job and some medication. have a great day!
Hope Alexander January 31, 2013 at 02:00 AM
Even though I have taken ownership of the tragic ordeal that occurred on Jan 3, 2013 resulting in the death of a Yorkie there are some people who are under the impression that I have not so let me clarify. I have, will and am taking full responsibilty for the unfortunate incident on Jan 3, 2013 leading to the death of a Yorkie. I have complied with every term made to me by the Health Department in Fair Lawn by agreeing to and fullfilling the following: 1. I agreed to, purchased and placed heavy duty chains and key locks on both gates of my property where only I and my mother with have access to the key. 2. I agreed to and purchased muzzles for both Cosgrove and Wilson to be used any time they are brought off my property. 3. I agreed to short leashes to be used when off my property walking my dogs. 4. I agreed to and submitted to a home inspection where an Animal Control Officer and a Health Department Officer came to my home, evaluated my yard, gates and fence and deemed them both safe and inescapable. 5. I agreed to fullfill the 10 quarantine that was to set to expire on Jan 14, 2014 and have done so....Cosgrove and Wilson are still being help at the animal control shelter.
Hope Alexander January 31, 2013 at 02:01 AM
Also I have placed beware of Dog signs on both gates of my property and again I will state that Cosgrove and Wilson have NO prior history of escapes or violence and have NEVER shown any signs of aggression towards any human or animal I am completely heartbroken and apologetic for the death of the Yorkie and have from day one been very vocal about taking care of the yorkie's vet bills. My insurance was notified and put on record weeks ago. I am doing everything to make right what was a unfortunate accidental escape that led to a horrible incident by taking care of the regretfully deceased Yorkie vet bills and agreeing with all the towns request insuring Cosgrove and Wilson never get out again. The guest that was temporarily living with me that left the gate open was asked to leave. I am saddened by the events of the past 4 weeks and my prayers and love go out to the family of the deceased Yorkie. Love and Blessings, Hope Alexander
M atkins January 31, 2013 at 11:21 AM
My sister gave ma a yorkie last xmas I have 2 akita also and the yorkie is a nightmare he is the most aggressive dog I have ever owned, I am constantly having to stop him attacking the big dogs he actually makes them yelp and has even drawn blood, when I walk him I pick him up when I see other dogs and even if he was not nasty I would still pick him up jetted safe than sorry. I have walked my big dogs many times and little dog owners always seem to think its funny when there little dogs show aggression nobody except the owner of the yorkie knows what happened maybe the yorkie was the aggressor and the big dogs retaliated,it's very sad the little dog died but I don't think the dogs should be killed.
MBM January 31, 2013 at 07:17 PM
I have to comment. To Yudy; whether you choose to believe it or not, the Yorkie was ripped apart. It was not a little bite. Refer to the acticle in this Patch from Ed Trawinski please. The dog DID NOT die of kidney or liver failure. It died of severe bite wounds. To giantbreedmama: Tiny scratches? No, I don't think so. If Trawinski gets his way and releases the pictures, I think that will shut you up. While it is true there has not been a public comment from the owner of the Yorkie, I have spoken to him twice so until you have heard both sides and get all your facts straight, maybe you should just be quiet. Innocent until proven guilty? Have you seen the latest posting on FaceBook and in this column from Hope Alexander? Even she admits at this point that there is truth in the fact that her dogs were responsible for the death of the Yorkie. She even goes as far as insisting to pay all vet bills. Now, why would she do that if the dog died of liver or kidney failure and not from an attack? To Jen: Not on lead? Where do you get your information? To finally put that RUMOR to rest, THE YORKIE WAS ON A LEASH. Pictures don't lie? First of all, yeah they do, and second, I will refer to the above mentioned. Have Travinski release the photos of the aftermath. Then, let's hear what you have to say about photos and lies. To Kimberly Rogus: Do you live in FL? Because the pet ordinance specifically says that households in this borough are only allowed 3 dogs and you mention 5. oops
Anonymously February 01, 2013 at 09:40 AM
Well done mr. Meztler those dogs need to be put down and the owner of these dogs should be allowed to have any more dogs. The owner have a similar history dated back from 2011. Obviously, the owner and her son are not fit to be pet owner. As a resident, I want my family and self to be able to walk around town safely. Recently, I've seen too many lost dogs wondering around town.
AMC February 01, 2013 at 04:31 PM
None of us were at the scene...we can only refer to the facts that were provided by those who arrived at the scene...the so called attackers...didn't have blood on them..if they mauled the dog...they would have been covered in blood , so would have been the owner and the smaller dog...All dogs should be always on a leash..when out of their houses...Cosgrove and Wilson, got out only because someone who was visiting neglected to check the gate...not the dogs fault...they are said to be calm non aggressive animals...they had to have reason to BITE...the dog...my thought little dogs always try to act larger then they are...being not on a leash...approached the dogs and they defended themselves...Some of your comments are very cruel and not correctly stated...You should always see your self in the shoes of someone else before judging...the truth of the matter is..Hope swears that her dogs have never shown any acts of aggression before...and she has done everything in her power to make sure that it will never happen again...Therefore give her and her dogs the benefit of the doubt....! This world has become full of hate and war against one another instead of compassion and understanding...I pray for all of you !
Concerned February 01, 2013 at 08:42 PM
Well said!
Sheila vanderweit February 03, 2013 at 11:51 AM
Let the dogs go! This is why the town of fairlawn sucks! There is a court order to let them go! They let murderer's go on bail! This is ridiculous shows how much this town supports the residents.
FLMOM February 03, 2013 at 03:23 PM
MBM is a moron of ignorance. Get off this forum and have tea with the dog owner you so clearly say you spoke to. LOSER!
NoName February 06, 2013 at 08:38 PM
Yea sure let them go and maul someone else. They are animals who have proven themselves vicious. They need to be put down. Small dogs are more agressive. What a load of hooey. A small dog doesnt do much damage if any and can be controlled by its owner. A 80 - 180 lb dog. Are you insane wanting these monsters free to attack and kill again.
Kim Faber February 11, 2013 at 01:14 AM
KIM Too bad people make comments about things they know nothing about. You call the Dogs Monsters, have you ever met them. Just because they are Large dogs they should just be put down, what a MINDLESS thing to say! Maybe you should learn to gather all the facts and maybe meet the Gentile Giants First before you Judge their Life's away! My Goodness Really what is this Planet coming to! I Pray for these two Gentile Giants that they come Home Soon and Pray for the People who are so Quick to decide the Fate of things that they Really know Nothing about! Hope your Furry Friends come home Soon!!!!!!!!!
NoName February 11, 2013 at 12:29 PM
Yes I do and I am sticking to it. I think you are the MINDLESS one. I wish these dogs lived next door to you and stood by your fence growling, barking, and licking their chops whenever they saw you or maybe your dog. I am certain then you would know the terror the dog owner and his small dog felt just before they pounced. Stop viewing these vicous dogs through rose colored glasses.
Jules Vernon February 11, 2013 at 02:37 PM
I own a dog, love that dogs, and I know the law quite well. Dogs must be leashed at all times. No exceptions. That is the law. If my dog was unleashed, or escaped, and tragically attacked a person or killed another dog then I would be prepared to suffer the consequences. You are the one who sounds crazy by elevating dogs to the status of people. Dogs are great animals, my absolute favorite animals, but they are not people. They (and all other animals) are below humans in the animal kingdom, and are not meant to be treated like animals.
Jules Vernon February 11, 2013 at 02:41 PM
Agreed. The borough should release the photos so the next round of arguing can begin. It will pit those who believe what they see in the photos against those who will claim we either shouldn't believe what we see, or that the photos were doctored. :-)
Jules Vernon February 11, 2013 at 02:46 PM
I have been a dog owner since age 8 and I can say with certainty that small dogs are far more agressive than big ones. In general, it's the little ones who are the loudest and are quickest to bite. Bigger dogs generally don't show the same level of agression because they don't need to. It's much like the Napoleanic complex in humans.
big dog February 11, 2013 at 03:30 PM
yep but your missing one major point, if a little dog does attack someone or another pet it is likely little harm will be done. big dogs maybe less aggressive but they are still more dangerous, one bite from a large dog can cause a great deal of harm or even kill a smaller dog. if i am attacked by a pomeranian i can quickly defend myself. even my 7 yr old daughter could defend herself if attacked. however if i was attacked by a pitbull i will most likely end up with severe wounds. if my duaghter is walking our family dog and is attacked by a pitbull i dont even want to imagine what that outcome could be. so when you people say big dogs are less aggressive than small dogs that really isnt the issue, the issue is the harm a large dog can do compared to a small dog.
Deleted because of harassment February 11, 2013 at 09:29 PM
Those that insist the dogs be put down are a menace, etc., show they have no understanding whatsoever of the behavior of dogs. In the absence of any witnesses (didn't I already say this?) NO ONE knows if there were actions that provoked the attack - by the Yorkie, by the owner, or by some other event. If the dogs have repeatedly passed a behavior assessment, which is supposed to include interaction with an unfamilar dog, the chances of any repeat behaviior is almost nil. Dogs will seek to defend themselves when they are threatened with behavior that causes them to react defensively. Another dog barking at them, bigger or smaller, can put them into acting in self defense, and by virtue of their size, the little dog is going to be the loser. I think there is no reason to release photos, but it might have put an end to some of the suppositions if the town authorities had just come forward with the the details up front. We've also had a dog we had to put down because of behavior, and that we had them put down shows that we were willing to be responsible and not somehow unable to train a pet; some animals are wired to respond in ways that make them a danger. Having one and recognizing that certainly does not make someone irresponsible. As for the comments about "if it had been a baby in a stroller" and the like, are just plain inflamatory; big dogs, and some particular breeds of big dogs are the subject of ever irrational fear of animals there ever will be.
FLResident98 February 11, 2013 at 10:10 PM
Everyone continues to ignore the facts in this case. 1. Town entered into an agreement. If certain conditions are met the dogs will be returned. 2. Miss Alexander met the conditions. 3. Town refuses to honor the agreement. Everything else brought up in these comments is an emotional knee jerk reaction to a very tragic incident and have nothing to do with the issue at hand. They are issues that will be dealt with in a different legal action and have no place in this particular discussion.
Kim Faber February 12, 2013 at 11:53 PM
I wish these Dogs (Gentile Giants) lived next door to me also!!! :)
NoName February 13, 2013 at 02:07 PM
No One knows what the Yorkie did to PROVOKE the Attack? Are you kidding me. Now the little Yorkie is the aggressor and should have gotten what he deserved? Wasn't the owner of the Yorkie there? So I guess if the attacking dogs dont have a witness on their behalf his word (that of a human being whose dogs was mauled) holds no sway? I have had dogs and I have also seen vicious dogs that friends have owned and I DO know the difference. You fanatic dog defenders had better wake up. Its like the old saying, A liberal is only a liberal until they are the victim of a crime. Then they cry for justice and retribution. Prior to that they defended the criminal
big dog February 13, 2013 at 03:58 PM
you people are missing one point when you say "no one knows what the yorkie did to provoke the attack". ONLY one dog owner was there. if im walking my large dog and a little yorkie starts barking (like they usually do) it is my responsible to make sure i hold my dog back. an owner is responsible for their dogs action. if my dog broke away from me and attacked and killed the barking yorkie I am responsible for the dogs death, even if the other dog "provoked it" if a dog gets loose and a horrible event like this happens, the owner who was not there loses all benefit of doubt. sorry i feel bad for the owner because accidents like this happen, but i do not hold it against our council for taking extra precautions to make sure there is no future legal issues that can hurt the borough.
Deleted because of harassment February 13, 2013 at 11:25 PM
What I said was "NO ONE knows if there were actions that provoked the attack - by the Yorkie, by the owner, or by some other event.". Please get it correct if you are going to accuse me of placing blame, because I did not, and furthermore made it pretty clear that dog behavior is not human behavior. The owner not present does not lose her legal rights; she does face additional sanctions, which is what Hope did. The Borough was not happy with the sanction agreement and chose to try to wriggle out of it. At this point it will be settled in court, hopefully, but for any dog owner, the point is that in this community, entering into what you think is a fair and equitable settlement, and accepting blame is still not enough because those that make the laws are of the opinion that they can create the laws on the spot. What happened in past history involving other incidents does not mean what happened in this one has to be treated above and beyond what a reasonable person would expect to happen because in this incident they complied with demands, provided proof of compliance with the demands and were left with complete disregard for their compliance and a new-not-yet-to-be-decided set of demands. Add into this a lack of clear evidence from anyone about the actual attack itself. Not the result but the incident itself. This is ultimately going to a court to settle but it's unfortunate that the town took a position, took another one, and keeps moving the rules to suit themselves .
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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