Legal tussle over ailing police dog in Burlington Co., NJ

October 19, 2012 2:37:42 PM PDT
Robert Ettinger of Chatsworth is a Pemberton police officer, and for five years now he and his K-9 partner have been fighting crime in Burlington County.

But last month the German shepherd was diagnosed with back and spinal cord problems. You can see how his legs just give out sometimes.

Urgo's ailments require surgery and will end his career.

"We'd like to adopt him," said Ettinger's wife, Stephanie. "We're not asking them to pay for the surgery or anything like that, We just want to be able to adopt him so we can raise the money and get the surgery done for him."

"Kind of the best of both worlds, where the dog gets transferred, gets to go to a loving home and gets taken care of by his handler," said Ettinger's attorney, Christopher Gray. "And this dog can get the treatment it needs and get out of pain."

Officer Ettinger isn't permitted to talk on camera. But he and his attorney have been going back and forth with Pemberton Township about the care and adoption of Urgo.

Local officials are worried about liability in case the dog hurts someone.

"Once they sell the dog, it's no longer their dog," said Ettinger's mother, Lynn Giamalis. "It's like selling a piece of equipment."

Not so, say township officials, who describe Urgo as an exceptionally aggressive dog. Even if he's sold to his handler and then goes after someone, officials fear the township could still be liable.

"One serious dog bite could cost us a million dollars," said Township Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez. "I cannot in good conscience allow that risk to be borne by the taxpayers."

The township is insisting Officer Ettinger get insurance that would cover the township if anything like that happened. Confirmation of a $2 million policy just came through Friday afternoon, and the township has signed the paper work allowing the Ettingers to adopt Urgo.

"We love him," said Stephanie. "He's part of our family, he's been loyal to my husband, he's his partner.

If all goes well, Urgo will have the $6500 surgery he needs next week. Pemberton PBA Local 260 in New Kisbon is collecting donations to help defray the K9's medical costs.


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