Dogs no longer will be automatically put to death after being taken from dog-fighting environments or after defending owners against human attacks, under a law signed Tuesday by Governor Phil Murphy.

The new law, which takes effect immediately, removes the requirement for courts to deem dogs vicious if they have participate in dog-fighting activities.

It also prohibits courts from declaring dog sto be potentially dangerous for causing bodily injury in the act of defending their owners from people committing or attempting to commit crimes against them.

“It’s heartbreaking to think that undeserving dogs have been euthanized in New Jersey when rehabilitation may have been a better option,” Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, D-Passiac, said. “Fortunately, those days are over. Hundreds of canine lives will be saved under this new law, and they’ll have a chance to find forever, caring homes.”

The law removes a requirement that courts deem dog to be potentially dangerous for unprovoked attacks on domestic animals, while maintaining that dogs be considered potentially dangerous if there is clear and convincing evidence they have been trained, tormented, badgered, baited or encouraged to engage in unprovoked attacks on people only.

“While protecting the lives of our residents is our first and foremost priority, there is no need to unnecessarily euthanize a living creature based on a mere suspicion of potential future danger when there may not be enough evidence to suggest that the dog is truly that dangerous,” Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen, said.

There are now just eight states remaining with laws that allow the euthanizing of dogs that have taken part in dog fighting, without consideration for the animal's actual behavior, according to the ASPCA.

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