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Paterson Native With Cancer Wants Her Bulldog Back

Tank is an American Bulldog. Photo Credit: Contributed
Tank's family is struggling to get him home. Photo Credit: Contributed

PATERSON, N.J. – A Paterson native with stage 3 colon cancer is fighting to get her dog back from animal control.

Deborah Gonzales Schwadtke, who now lives in Vernon, said she has been without her dog, Tank, since Sept. 12.

A judge declared Tank to be “potentially dangerous” after the 2 ½ year-old American Bulldog bit a neighbor.

Schwadtke said the dog ran out in front of her niece, who set out to take another dog for a walk, and ended up at a neighbor’s house down the street. She said the neighbor offered to leash him up, “and leashed him up from behind” which may have startled Tank.

“He’s been around thousands and thousands of people and never bit anyone until this incident and I think it was to defend my family. Everybody loves him,” she said about Tank, who she described as “playful” and “non-violent.”

Because the judge declared Tank to be “potentially dangerous,” by law there is a list of requirements she must comply with before Tank can come home. But as she is out of work battling cancer, and her husband works part-time at a gas station, they are struggling to meet them, and time is running out.

On Dec. 19, Schwadtke signed a court order stating she had 30 days to meet the requirements.

“If Tank causes injury to any person or animal due to the defendant’s non-compliance with the terms in this order, he shall be surrendered to Vernon Township Animal Control for humane euthanasia,” the judge’s order states.

According to the order:

  • Tank’s owner must erect and maintain an enclosure “with sound sides, top and bottom to prevent the potentially dangerous dog from escaping.”
  • The enclosure must be “within a fence of at least six feet in height separated by at least three feet from the confined area.”
  • When Tank is outside of the enclosure, he must be muzzled and on a lead of no-more than 3-feet.
  • Tank must have three sessions with a dog trainer.
  • Tank’s owner must obtain liability insurance.

“It’s an unfortunate situation, but we do have to keep in mind that this dog, whatever the circumstances were, was adjudicated in court, and did bite somebody,” said Vernon Township Police Lt. Keith Kimkowski, who said the chief has been in contact with Schwadtke.

“The best place for the dog to be would be with the owner, but they have to abide by the law. It's not really up to our discretion. We have to abide by this too to make sure that the public is safe also,” he said.

Janine Hummel, a Vernon dog walker and advocate for Bully Breeds, has taken it upon herself to help the Schwadtkes.

“I feel like Tank is the underdog, and I just want to help. They have children and they were really destroyed by his removal,” Hummel said.

Hummel said she is working to figure out how the family can build the enclosure in the frigid weather, and is also trying to find out if a rescue group can take in Tank.

She also started a page to raise money to help the family meet the requirements to get Tank back. As of Friday, it had garnered nearly $1,000 of its $5,000 goal.

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