A Happy Ending for River, the Dog

August 10, 2018
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During an Aug. 7 rally at Veterans Park in Highlands for more strict animal abuse laws, Monroe resident Laurie Santini embraced the 10-month old pit bull River, whose rescue by Highlands resident Jennifer Vaz made national headlines last week. Photo by Chris Rotolo

By Chris Rotolo |

HIGHLANDS – The promenade that wraps around Veteran’s Park and its scenic view of the Sandy Hook Bay is a path often less traveled by borough resident Jennifer Vaz and her 4-year old boxer Molly.

But on that early morning sunrise walk July 30, the ramble turned into a rescue mission. Detecting a faint whimper on the water’s edge, Molly guided her owner to come upon a dreadful scene: another dog locked in a crate with an incoming tide lapping up against it.

“When I looked over and saw him in the crate, and the water splashing off him, his eyes were so sad,” said Vaz, 32, of the dog, whose name was revealed to be River, according to the tags affixed to his collar. “I’ll never forget his eyes. He wasn’t angry, he just seemed to want to know why. What’s going on? Why is this happening?”

Once she traversed the slick and rocky terrain, and opened the door to the crate, Vaz said River was very timid and distrustful, and clung to the back of the cage. It wasn’t until her dog Molly entered the pen and began licking the pit bull puppy’s face that he put his faith in the pair of rescuers, and allowed them to take him to safety.

“To be honest, Molly is the real hero,” Vaz said. “She’s the one who led us to River. She’s the one who calmed him and led him out of the crate. She really is the hero in this story. All I’m doing is giving River a voice.”

The voice Vaz provides is one pleading to state government officials for stiffer penalties against perpetrators convicted of animal cruelty. Her appeal prompted a call for the creation “River’s Law,” which would induce loftier fines, and increased jail time without the option for early release.

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River’s Law would also include the formation of an online registry – similar to the New Jersey Sex Offender Internet Registry – designed for the public to search for the identity of anyone convicted of an animal abuse charge, regardless of the crime’s severity. The creation of this registry would empower a proprietor, organization, or agency to make a more informed decision about an individual seeking to purchase, adopt, or foster an animal.

On Aug. 7 the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office detained Aaron D. Davis, 36, of Long Branch, and charged him with animal cruelty and abandonment. According to a media release, an investigation determined that Davis had abandoned River “in an attempt to drown the animal.” Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said if Davis is convicted, he could face three to five years in prison.

Though the potential prison sentence facing Davis is steep, Vaz said it’s the exception to the rule, as most perpetrators of animal abuse only receive a misdemeanor offense, which results in a fine and at most, a minimal prison sentence of about 30 days.

“Unfortunately animals are still considered just property, and it’s not right,” Vaz said. “These are living creatures. They have compassion and love. They feel fear and can suffer. And often, first-time offenders will get a slap on the wrist and a fine. The worst penalty is three to five years, and that’s if they don’t get parole. Like any other being that can’t speak for themselves, animals need us to speak up and protect them.”

Hazlet resident Ann Copp has launched an online petition about “River’s Law,” and issued it to Gov. Phil Murphy, Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak, Sen. Vin Gopal, and Sen. Corey Booker, and Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, and has received nearly 11,000 signatures at the time of print.

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Copp, Vaz, and residents of the Bayshore and surrounding communities gathered at Veteran’s Park in Highlands Tuesday, Aug. 7 to rally in support of River and the adoption of “River’s Law,” a byproduct of this heroic rescue tale the group is hopeful will come soon.

A crowd of approximately 75 gathered at Veterans Park in Highlands Wednesday for a “Rally for River.” The crowd met the 10-month old pit bull who was rescued from a cage left at the river’s edge last week, and called for harsher penal- ties for animal abusers. Photo by Chris Rotolo

“In 46 of 50 states we have felony laws when for animal abuse, and most of the time the charges are dropped to misdemeanors because the animal is not dead or mutilated,” Copp said at Tuesday’s rally. “These people get minimal fines, maybe 30 days in jail, and they’re never bothered again. There needs to be a registry. There has to be harsher fines; jail time without early release. Because right now there is zero accountability.”

In the meantime, Vaz is focused on completing the official adoption of River, a process she credits Middletown Animal Control and Monmouth County SPCA for its assistance.

“These groups have been amazing. Everyone has had great communication, and is keeping me up to date on everything,” said Vaz, who has already taken River into her home to live with she and Molly.

After a recent visit to the SPCA, Vaz urges local residents to venture to the group’s headquarters in Eatontown and adopt the multitude of dogs and cats at the facility.

“River had an ear infection so I had to bring him back, and while I was there I was able to walk around and meet some of the dogs and cats the SPCA is caring for. There are some wonderful animals there with, unfortunately, similar stories to River, if not worse. Please visit them. And please consider taking them home.”

For more information on animals available for adoption visit www.monmouthcountyspca.org.

This article was first published in the August 9-16, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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