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News from Monmouth County, New Jersey

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    Mario Atkinson, 42, of Asbury Park, had a previous conviction for animal cruelty that barred him from having pets. Authorities seized 18 dogs used in fights from his home

    Investigators found dog blood spattered on the basement walls. There was dog-fighting equipment including a modified treadmill used to force dogs to run.

    And the 18 animals seized by investigators from Mario Atkinson's house in Asbury Park in June 2016 had signs they had been involved in illegal dog fights.

    Authorities say Atkinson, 42, was part of a dog-fighting ring that spanned multiple states. He was one of nine people in the ring charged by federal authorities and on Wednesday became the fifth to be sent to prison.

    Atkinson, who had previously been fined for 10 counts of animal cruelty in a separate case, will spend two years behind bars.

    "Animal cruelty like the conduct in this case has no place in a civilized society," acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Wood said. "(Wednesday's) sentencing sends a strong message that we are bringing to justice those who engage in illegal dog fighting and that anyone who engages in this conduct does so at the risk of significant jail time."

    Christie signs law criminalizing dog fighting in N.J.

    During one of the dog fights in Virginia in 2016, one of Atkinson's animals was so badly injured that it died on the return trip home, authorities said. Atkinson tossed the carcass in the garbage, authorities said.

    Atkinson's first conviction for animal cruelty came two years earlier in Neptune Township.  As part of his sentence he was barred from having additional pets.

    Four of the other nine alleged members of the ring have been convicted and sentenced. The remaining four are set to go on trial beginning Oct. 8. 

    The dog-fighting ring began around October 2015, authorities said. In all, 66 dogs were rescued and dog-fighting paraphernalia seized at properties in New Jersey, Illinois, Indiana, New Mexico and Washington, D.C. 

    Atkinson pleaded guilty in June 2017 to one count of sponsoring and exhibiting a dog in a dog fight and one count of unlawful possession of a dog intended to be used for the purpose of dog fighting.

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find on Facebook.

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    Which teams made it into the latest ranking? And which teams fell out?

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    Cast your vote for the top senior pitcher in the Garden State

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    The professor yelled "f--- your life" at a student. Watch video

    A New Jersey community college apologized Wednesday after a professor was caught on camera shouting "f--- your life" during a debate with a conservative student.

    Brookdale Community College said the professor, Howard Finkelstein, "acted in an uncivil manner" during a sociology class last week. The college is still investigating the incident, which spurred complaints of a hostile liberal environment where conservative viewpoints aren't tolerated.

    "We apologize to this student and to all students in the classroom for the way in which this faculty member behaved, the college said.

    Brookdale respects the viewpoints of its students and faculty and values discourse and civil debate, the college said in the statement. 

    Christopher Lyle, the student targeted in Finkelstein's outburst, said he appreciates the apology. 

    "I believe the school is doing the right thing," he said. 

    The incident was part a pattern of Finkelstein rejecting and disrespecting conservative viewpoints, Lyle, 23, of Toms River said. 

    Echoing nationwide complaints from conservative college students, Lyle said he is being discriminated against in the classroom for his conservative views. 

    Finkelstein, a veteran professor, regularly tells Lyle to "shut up," has criticized him for owning a gun and dismissed his opinions as "the reason America is not great," Lyle said.

    Their disagreements came to a head in the outburst caught on camera, during an Intercultural Communications class April 11, according to students. 

    Finkelstein and Lyle were debating whether men are victims of sexual harassment, Lyle said. As the debate escalated, Finkelstein shouted "f--- your life" and slammed his hand on a table. 

    The college said it expects to finish its investigation soon and determine an appropriate course of action. 

    Adam Clark may be reached at Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClarkFind on Facebook


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    NJ Advance Media has put together a list of the top girls lacrosse seniors. Vote for the No. 1 player at the bottom.

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    From Anthony Ashnault to Sydney McLaughlin, New Jersey's high school sports legends are well represented in the national record books.

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    WARNING: Do not read this story if you're hungry.

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    Police say 13 drivers complained of vehicle troubles from bad gas at Wanamassa Sunoco on Route 35 at Sunset Avenue in Ocean Township

    Heavy rains earlier this week may have contaminated an underground gasoline supply at an Ocean Township Sunoco, leaving more than a dozen motorists stranded as cars became disabled, a corporate spokeswoman said Friday.

    Thirteen drivers told police their vehicles experienced problems after fueling at the station. Some reported smoking and vibrating engines shortly after gassing up at the Wanamassa Sunoco on Route 35 at Sunset Avenue in Ocean Township, authorities said.

    "We believe that this is an isolated incident and the recent heavy rains may have been a contributing factor in this situation," Jeamy Molina, a Sunoco spokeswoman in Dallas, Texas, said Friday.

    A sample taken Thursday from a 5,000-gallon underground tank "revealed a significant amount of water in the gasoline," said Township Police Lt. Timothy R. Torchia.

    The gas station was closed while state and local officials investigate the cause, Torchia said.

    Monmouth County Freeholder Gerry P. Scharfenberger said Tuesday's heavy rains left the county's "interior creeks unusually swollen." But he added no cause for the gasoline problem had been determined by Friday.

    Scharfenberger said 3,000 gallons of tainted gasoline had been removed Thursday and hauled to a disposal facility two hours away. He said the remainder of the tainted fuel would be removed Friday.

    The contaminated gas was found in a tank containing regular gas. No contamination was found in another underground tank containing premium gas, said Larry Hajna, spokesman for the NJ Department of Environmental Protection.

    Sunoco said all fuel pumps at the station will be shut down until the company institutes "a number of testing and tank cleansing procedures to ensure fuel quality meets and exceeds specifications."

    Customers who experienced vehicle problems may call the company at 1-800-SUNOCO-1.

    Anthony G. Attrino may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TonyAttrino. Find on Facebook.

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    New Jersey will be well-represented in two of the most prestigious high school events at the Penn Relays, the 4x800m and distance medley relays. Take an N.J. deep dive on the past, present and possible future of these two events.

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    The store is expected to open next month.

    The latest Dick's Sporing Goods in New Jersey is slated to open next month, bringing dozens of jobs to Monmouth County. 

    Dick's currently operates 18 stores in New Jersey, according to its website. The new store, in West Long Branch, is located on Route 36 in the Consumer Centre. 

    The store will hire 55 full- and part-time employees, as well as 25 temporary employees, the company announced in a release. Like other Dick's locations, it will sell athletic and outdoor apparel, team sports gear and equipment for golfing, fishing and fitness. 

    Dick's Sporting Goods to stop selling assault-style rifles immediately

    The store is expected to open in late May, and will mark the occasion with giveaways and special in-store appearances, according to a release. Additional information on the grand opening festivities had not been announced as of Friday. 

    Amanda Hoover can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @amandahoovernj. Find on Facebook

    Have a tip? Tell us.

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    Take a look at the top talent in the Class of 2019.

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    A conference-by-conference breakdown of the top teams and players in N.J. girls lacrosse this week.

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    On the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting, the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office held an active-shooter drill at a now-vacant school in Manasquan. Watch video

    School children used to only participate in fire drills.

    Then Columbine happened. Then Sandy Hook happened. Then Parkland happened.

    Now, 19 years after Columbine, kids are being carried out of school buildings by first responders, pretending they were shot in an active-shooter drill.

    This is the new reality for children today -- and they aren't afraid of it.

    "I enjoyed the drill as it prepares everyone for such an incident," said Doug Rhoades, an 18-year-old student at the Academy of Law and Public Safety in Long Branch. Rhoades is an EMT who has aspirations of being a law enforcement officer.

    But today, he played a victim who was shot in the head during a drill conducted by numerous agencies in Monmouth County. It was held at the now-vacant St. Denis School in Manasquan on the 19th anniversary of the school shooting in Littleton, Colorado.

    Rhoades wasn't even born yet when two seniors at Columbine High School massacred 12 students and one teacher.

    "I have three children who go to elementary school," Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni told reporters after the drill. "They come home and tell me about these drills that they have. And while it might seem shocking for some of us that didn't live through that, at the end of the day, if you have children wouldn't you want them to be prepared?"

    active shooter drill.jpgOfficials in Monmouth County held an active shooter drill on Friday, April 20, 2018, at the former St. Denis School campus on Union Ave in Manasquan. (Russ DeSantis | For NJ Advance Media) 

    Ninety-one students from high schools in the area participated in the event. After fake gunshots rang out, some of the students fled from the school, shouting that they had been shot; others walked out of the school in a single file line, officers searching them as the scurried to a nearby church for safety. SWAT officers descended on a school parking lot already mobbed with police and firefighters.

    The drill was so detailed and realistic at times, that police officers even covered the bodies of students pretending to be dead with white cloths.

    The manufactured scenes were similar to real one played out on television screens across America -- more than once.

    Click here for photos of the drill

    Gramiccioni and Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden came out to address a throng of reporters and gave details of the incident as if it happened in real life. They then shed the masks and took questions about the drill. 

    "It's a sad reality but it's the reality of today," Gramiccioni said. "Our goal is to be as prepared as possible. There's an expression ... 'The price of safety is eternal vigilance.' That's what brings us to this exercise today." 

    Alex Napoliello may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @alexnapoNJ. Find on Facebook.

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    The fight against pollution has been churning for decades, yet New Jersey's waterways are still trashed. Watch video

    It is Earth Day weekend 2018, and around the Garden State thousands of volunteers will wade into streams and rivers to pull hundreds of tires and tons of  bottles, bikes and all other types of trash out of rivers and waterways.

    Since the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, new laws fighting the most toxic and dangerous pollution of land, water and air have continued to improve the  environment. But while environmental health in New Jersey has improved drastically since 1970, problems persist.

    The most visible problem? Litter.

    To this day, trash continues to make its way from roadsides to riverbeds in massive quantities.

    The culprit? Humans.

    The good news is that efforts have sprung up all around the Garden State to fight the trashing of our waterways.

    Meet the crew who cleans up the Passaic River

    Along the 21-mile long Passaic River, the Passaic Valley Sewer Commission has used a trash skimming boat to pull garbage directly out of the water since 1999. Since the program began, the skimmer has pulled about 3,050 tons of plastic bottles, styrofoam containers, aluminum cans and other garbage out of the Passaic.

    In 2005, the PVSC began supplementing the skimmer operations with community cleanups of the river banks. PVSC spokesman Doug Scancarella. Scancarella said more than 270,000 volunteers to date have helped clean more than 9,000 tons of trash off the banks of the Passaic.

    The constant stream of litter flowing into the Passaic, combined with the trash brought in with the tides, is frustrating to the people who work to clean the river. But Scancarella said that doesn't diminish the work being done.

    "It's hard to quantify what [the river] would look like if we weren't doing it," Scancarella said.

    In Central Jersey, Bill Schultz, the Raritan Riverkeeper, says work to clean trash out of the Raritan has surged in recent years.

    "We're seeing a resurgence in interest in the Raritan River," Schultz said.

    Schultz said that dam removal and toxic site remediation has helped the Raritan regain its health, but garbage in the water and on the river banks remains a persistent problem.

    "Litter is a human behavior. That's one of the concerns that I still have," Schultz said. "I'm not sure that we're making the progress that we need to."

    Schultz points to the Central Jersey Stream Team, a small nonprofit, as a model of volunteer river cleanups.

    "This is the gang that is in the mud," Schultz said. "They are digging tires out of the riverbed. It's fantastic."

    Jens Riedel, the president of the nonprofit, said they've pulled more than 4,000 tires and tons of trash out of the Raritan River and its tributaries to date.

    The group has cleaned the entire main stem and south branch of the Raritan from Clinton to Piscataway at least once since the cleanups started.

    Riedel says most of the trash they find is plastic bottles and food containers, but bicycles and mattresses have been pulled up before. They've even helped dig three cars out of the river in Bridgewater, near Duke Island Park

    Gallery preview 

    Along the Shore since 1985, Clean Ocean Action organizes two major "beach sweeps" each year in April and October. The events typically take place at more than 60 locations simultaneously, drawing thousands of volunteers.

    "It's really exciting to me to see the thousands of people that turn out," said Cindy Zipf, the executive director of Clean Ocean Action. "I think it shows the Jersey pride that we have for the Jersey Shore, but more importantly that people are recognizing the impact."

    The state gets in on the cleanup action too. Since 2011, the state Department of Environmental Protection has organized "blitzes" of Barnegat Bay aimed at cleaning up litter throughout the important South Jersey watershed. Larry Hajna, a spokesman for NJDEP, said that about 27,000 volunteers have picked up about 4,200 cubic yards of trash since the program started.

    The clean up work across the state is important, but it only mitigates the larger pollution problem.

    "Clean ups are great, but we are advocating to stop plastic pollution at the source," said Sandra Meola, the policy and communications director for NY/NJ Baykeeper.

    For her group, Meola said, that means pushing for a statewide fee on plastic and paper bags, a statewide ban on styrofoam food containers in public schools and universities and a statewide ban on the intentional release of balloons.

    There's a common theme shared by waterway advocates across the Garden State: Cleaning up trash is important, but the positive effects are diminished by people continuing to dump garbage and litter across New Jersey.

    "As a society, we have to learn that our rivers are not acceptable garbage cans," Schultz said.

    Michael Sol Warren may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MSolDub. Find on Facebook.

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    Who are the top seniors in the Garden State?

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    Maruca's Tomato Pies, an institution in Seaside Heights, will open a second location in one of two boardwalk pavilions being renovated in Asbury Park.

    Asbury Park can add yet another Jersey shore icon to its list of attractions, with the planned opening of a Maruca's Tomato Pies, famous for its 24-inch swirled pizzas, as part of a makeover of two boardwalk pavilions.

    "I haven't been to Asbury Park in, I don't know how long, but I hear it's up and coming," said Joe Maruca, who runs the original Maruca's with his brother Domenic in Seaside Heights. "I think it's good for everyone."

    Maruca's -- a contender in countless best Jersey pizza rankings, including last summer's list by food columnist Peter Genovese -- is one of two new restaurants planned for Asbury Park's Fourth and Fifth Avenue Pavilions, according to the city's designated boardwalk developer, Madison Marquette.

    A seafood restaurant yet to be named will be located in the overhauled Fifth Avenue Pavilion, said Pasqualina DeBoer, a Madison Marquette spokeswoman.

    The pavilions are situated between the boardwalk and Ocean Avenue, Asbury Park's main drag and home to several of the city's well-known landmarks: the Stone Pony, the rock 'n roll venue long associated with Bruce Springsteen; and a replica of the iconic Tillie mural on Wonder Bar, after the original had adorned the now demolished Palace Amusements hall. 

    The Fifth Avenue Pavilion, just south of historic Boardwalk Hall, is in itself one of Asbury Park's most recognizable structures, with its corona-shaped former Howard Johnson's space on one end, and its rooftop concert venue, both of which will be part of the revamped pavilion, Madison Marquette said.

    The DeBoer said retailers will begin opening in the Fifth Avenue Pavilion in June, while work continues on other elements. 

    Bruce Springsteen dances with his mom at Wonder Bar

    The Fourth Avenue Pavilion will include ground floor retail storefronts, and the first-ever office space along Asbury's boardwalk, located on the second floor, DeBoer said. A rooftop bar and deck will top it off.

    DeBoer said the Fourth Avenue overhaul still needs city approval, and new uses are not expected to begin opening there until late in the year. DeBoer said both pavilion projects are intended to expand dining, shopping and work space options in Asbury Park beyond the summer season. 

    Local activists have expressed concern that development has lagged far behind the waterfront in Asbury Park's working class neighborhoods on the west side of town, though this week the developer of the 64-unit Renaissance affordable housing complex announced a $1 million grant that would help keep the project on track for completion in 2019. food guru Genovese welcomed word of Maruca's expansion into Asbury Park, a city with a strong appetite for pizza.

    "I've always regarded Maruca's the best of the Jersey Shore boardwalk pizzerias," Genovese said, commending the business for its resiliency, as well as its red source. "They have a long history and they bounced back after Sandy wiped them out. As far as Asbury, it's an interesting and, at first glance, a gutsy move, considering Asbury is home to three top-notch pizzerias -- Talula's, Porta and Medusa.

    "But those three specialize in Neapolitan-style pizzas, which Maruca's doesn't do," Genovese added. "So I think Maruca's will do well. They have a brand name and identity from 50-plus years in business. Their presence can only add to Asbury's already strong food culture."

    Steve Strunsky may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SteveStrunsky. Find on Facebook.

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    Four New Jersey veteran political newcomers running for Congress

    It doesn't take a political historian or analyst to see the correlation between long-time partisan stalemates in Congress and the declining number of veterans in the Senate and House.

    From the 1960s to the 1990, veterans made up between 50 to 75 percent of Capitol Hill. That number is now 20 percent.

    Of course, there are other reasons for the political chasms. Count vitriolic posturing in the media as one, and the rising influence of lobbying dollars as another, just to start. Everybody digs in to their own trench.

    But the dearth of veterans is easily chartable. From a high of 75 percent in the 70s and 80s, it has been steadily declining. The percentage of Americans who serve in the military, too, is at an all-time low in our draft-less society.

    They call it "the service" for a reason.

    "Serve the country."

    "Serve the people."

    "Serve the party" just doesn't have the same to ring to it, does it? Sounds like something more out of the Kremlin than Washington.

    But maybe the cavalry is coming. Veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are becoming more politically involved.

    An organization called With Honor ( is tracking and endorsing veterans that put "principles over politics." It says more than 150 veterans are running in the Congressional mid-term primaries. Four are from New Jersey and none has ever held office. Primary Day is June 5 and here is one vote in favor of them doing well.

    MORE: Recent Mark Di Ionno columns

    I'm not a political columnist - the world doesn't need another - and this isn't a political column. But it is a column about hope. Because as a veteran myself, I hope former military people can go to Washington and prove America can still work.

    "When you go on a mission, you don't ask, 'Who is a Democrat and who is a Republican?'" said Mikie Sherrill, an Annapolis graduate, former Navy pilot and federal prosecutor running for the 11th District seat as a Democrat. "We (veterans) have worked with people from different backgrounds and with different ideas and know how to get the mission done."

    Antony Ghee, a Republican, also running for the 11th District seat, is a major in the Army reserves. Though he and Sherrill are from opposing parties, he shares her view that "mission" is missing in Washington.

    mcgeeAntony Ghee, Army Reserve JAG officer, running for the Republican nomination in the 11th District. 
    "We are trained to support and defend the Constitution, and accomplish missions by solving problems, not creating them," he said. "I unapologetically want to get back to that basic premise and get away from the petty politics that are undermining our democracy."

    To that point, neither Ghee, nor Peter De Neufville, who is also running in the 11th District, or Josh Welle, a candidate in the 4th, trumpet which party they are affiliated with on the home pages of the websites.

    "I wouldn't say it was a conscious decision to not include that I'm a Democrat," said Welle, a former class president at the Naval Academy. "Today, political parties carry too many negative connotations. I'm a strong Democrat - government should be invested in people, in schools, in health care - but I see running as another call to service. The institutions, and the Constitution, we fought to defend are under attack."

    De Neufville, a Republican candidate and former Navy intelligence officer, said "national interest has to come before partisan politics. The traffic jams caused by both Democrats and Republicans at the policy level has led to federal government failing us in many regards."

    Ghee and Welle, though in opposing parties, were both brought to politics because of the economic plight of the middle class.

    "I see what the national debt is doing to the country," said Ghee, an African-American bank executive. "I saw how the recession was devastating to all people, but especially African-Americans.

    "We all want the same thing," he said. "Safe communities. Fair wages. Opportunities for success. Opportunities for the future. I want to see the Republican Party to go back to be the party of inclusion and tolerance. We were the party that freed the slaves! People forget that."

    Welle was at a high school reunion when he met a classmate who was a public school teacher, but also working a second job as a landscape architect but still couldn't make ends meet. That pushed him to run.

    "I thought, 'Things have to change.' There is a social contract between government and the people to ensure success and financial security," Welle said. "We should have a higher moral compass. We should be able to transform lives."                 

    DeNeufvillePeter De Neufville, a former Navy intelligence officer is also running for the Republican nomination in the 11th District. 

    "Will veterans bring more comity and less partisanship to Congress? One part of me says yes," Teigen said. "Members of the military have volunteered years of their life that prioritized teamwork first, nation first, and mission first. They are socialized to work as teams toward common goals.Jeremy Teigen, a professor of political science at Ramapo College, is the author of "Why Veterans Run," (Temple University Press) a history and analysis of military-in-politics, beginning with George Washington.

    "Yet, the incentives and realities of Washington, D.C., will confound these characteristics," he said. "Partisanship is valued on the Hill and party leadership expects freshmen to back parties' national agenda. So, maybe veterans will get to Washington better able to resist these impulses -- they are probably better equipped than others, but it will be despite the institutional norms and incentives offered by Congress."

    There is one thing veterans hopefully will be able to resist. Unnecessary military conflict.

    "We need combat vets in Congress because decisions about war and peace should rest in the hands of people who understand the implications," Welle said.

    In other words, anyone who has been in combat, or seen the residual effects of combat, won't send troops to war lightly.

    "The human and financial cost of our ongoing military activity, in light of the duplicity of some of these governments, calls into the question the scope of our engagement," said De Neufville.

    "For the most part, people making decisions about our wars don't have skin in the game," said Sherrill. "Their children don't serve; their friends' children don't serve. They don't have a sense of what combat means. We have to make sure we're not sending people off to be killed for improper missions."

    Mark Di Ionno may be reached at Follow The Star-Ledger on Twitter @StarLedger and find us on Facebook. 

    DSC00059(1)Josh Welle, a retired U.S. Navy Commander, is running for Democratic nomination in the 4th Congressional District. 

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    The North Jersey coastline train #7201 was traveling from New York to Long Branch when it hit the unidentified victim

    A person was struck and killed by an NJ Transit train early Sunday morning, authorities said.

    The North Jersey coastline train #7201 was traveling from New York to Long Branch when it hit the unidentified victim near Bridgewaters Drive in Oceanport at about 1:45 a.m., according to NJ Transit spokesperson Jim Smith.

    There were 20 customers on the train but no passengers or crew members were injured, Smith said. 

    The North Jersey coastline service was temporarily suspended between Little Silver and Long Branch, but has since resumed, Smith said.

    Smith could not confirm why the person was on the tracks, and said the incident is still under investigation.

    Alexis Johnson may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @alexisjreports. Find on Facebook.


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    Rescues and shelters throughout New Jersey have pets available for adoption.

    This information on dog safety was compiled by members of the Dog Bite Prevention Coalition -- the U.S. Postal Service, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Humane Society, Insurance Information Institute and State Farm Insurance.

    *  If a carrier delivers mail or packages to your front door, place your dog into a separate room and close the door before opening the front door. Parents should also remind their children not to take mail directly from letter carriers in the presence of the family pet as the dog may see handing mail to a child as a threatening gesture.

    *  People often assume that a dog with a wagging tail is a friendly dog, but this is far from the truth. Dogs wag their tails for numerous reasons, including when they're feeling aggressive. A tail that is held high and moves stiffly is a sign that the dog is feeling dominant, aggressive, or angry.

    *  Dogs, even ones you know have good days and bad days. You should never pet a dog without asking the owner first and especially if it is through a window or fence. For a dog, this makes them feel like you are intruding on their space and could result in the dog biting you.

    *  ALL DOGS are capable of biting. There's no one breed or type of dog that's more likely to bite than others. Biting has more to do with circumstances, behavior, and training.

    *  Dogs have a language that allows them to communicate their emotional state and their intentions to others around them. Although dogs do use sounds and signals, much of the information that they send is through their body language, specifically their facial expressions and body postures. You can tell how a dog is feeling (sad, tired, happy, angry, scared) by looking at the position of a dogs' ears, mouth, eyes, and tail.

    *  Dogs are social animals who crave human companionship. That's why they thrive and behave better when living indoors with their pack -- their human family members. Dogs that are tied up or chained outside are frustrated and can become aggressive because they are unhappy. They can also become very afraid because when they are tied or chained up, they can't escape from things that scare them.

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