Friday, November 30, 2007

Congo, Meet Oscar

Friday’s New York Times brought news of Congo, a four-legged denizen of the “well-to-do Ivy League town” of Princeton, N.J. One of six German Shepherds who populate the household of Guy and Elizabeth James, Congo last summer mauled a Honduran landscaper named Giovanni Rivera. Four of the Jameses' other pooches joined in the attack on Mr. Rivera (the couple says Congo was provoked when the dog-shy landscaper “became scared of [Congo] and grabbed Mrs. James.”). Mr. Rivera, who “received 65 rabies shots … and spent five days in the hospital after a three-hour operation, according to his lawyer,” has accepted a $250,000 settlement form the Jameses’ insurer. In October, a municipal court judge in Princeton Township “declared Congo vicious and the attack unprovoked.” Having made that determination, the judge had no choice under New Jersey’s “vicious dog” law but to order that Congo be put down.

But hold on---the bell tolls not for Congo, at least not yet. According to Times scribe Sarah Kershaw

State Assemblyman Neil M. Cohen, a Democrat from Union, has introduced legislation, which he calls Congo’s Law, that could spare the life of Congo and other dogs in similar situations by giving judges more discretion in meting out punishment.

And now, thousands of people from Princeton and elsewhere are petitioning the governor for a pardon. (There is precedent for such things in New Jersey.)
And during Congo’s trial …

The Jameses also submitted to the court dozens of letters from character witnesses and others who had come into contact with Congo during his 18-month life.

“I have had the pleasure of knowing Congo over the past two years and feel confident in stating that my relations with him have always been friendly and warm,” wrote one friend of the family.
Nevertheless, and despite the “more than 4,000 telephone calls, letters and e-mail messages on Congo’s behalf” that have deluged Gov. John “Speedy” Corzine’s office, the shepherd passes what could be his final days under a sort of Death Row/House Arrest arrangement while his masters appeal the judge’s decision to a superior court.

This story struck a faint bell, but we couldn’t immediately locate the source of that feeling of déjà vu. Then we remembered: It was just a few days ago that we had learned of a similar outpouring of testimonials on behalf of another Alpha Male who ran into legal trouble, Houston oilman Oscar Wyatt (once semi-famously rendered a soggy, Croce-esque canine cliché by Texas Monthly, or maybe it was Good Housekeeping, which described the old boy as “meaner than a junkyard dog.”) Thanks to the “amazing letters” attesting to the humanitarianism and all-around wonderfulness of the 83-year-old husband of redoubtable socialite Lynn, a U.S. district judge on Tuesday sentenced Oscar to less than the minimum dictated by federal sentencing guidelines for paying kickbacks to the regime of Saddam Hussein in return for oil- purchase concessions. According to the Houston Chronicle, a Wyatt attorney said he couldn't remember another time "when a judge had gone below an agreed-upon sentencing range."

Obviously the testimonials worked much to the favor of Oscar Wyatt, who will probably spend less than a year in prison while poor Congo awaits an uncertain fate in the New Jersey judicial system. Then again, Congo never donated $20,000 to the Houston Police Department after being impressed by an officer who had stopped him for a traffic violation, and thus was unable to secure a letter of recommendation from former part-time Houston mayor and part-time police chief Lee P. Brown.

No comments: