CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE - Justin Peggs, the Cape May County Jail inmate who rescued an animal-shelter worker from a dog attack while working off his sentence, said he feared he would be the animal's next victim when he tackled it.
Peggs, 22, of Deptford Township, was stocking shelves Sept. 17 at the Cape May County Animal Shelter and Adoption Center in Middle Township when he saw the dog - a male pit bull terrier - lunge at employee Kathleen James.
James was taking the surrendered dog into the kennel when it became aggressive toward other dogs there and turned on her, mauling her leg.
Peggs, who stands 6-foot-2, said he pinned the dog to the ground while shelter workers rescued James, who was bleeding from several deep bite wounds.
"He had blood on his mouth. I was holding him down with everything I had," Peggs said. "I'm a pretty big guy - 400 pounds. The dog was so strong he was picking me up off the ground with his hind legs."
Peggs was at the shelter as part of the Sheriff Labor Assistance Program, through which he is working off his sentence for assault in a 2010 fight near the Wildwood Boardwalk. Peggs said he had a fistfight with two strangers who had taunted him about his size.
Peggs said he wanted to contest the charges but was warned by his public defender that he faced as long as five years in state prison if he lost at trial. Instead, he pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to 45 days in jail.
At the animal shelter, long minutes passed while the staff tended to James. Peggs said he wondered how much longer he could restrain the struggling, snarling animal.
"When I was on top of this dog, I was so scared it was going to get me. I was shaking like a leaf," Peggs said. "I've never seen a dog so strong. He was real stocky - all muscle. If they didn't get the chain around him, I don't know how much longer I could have held him down."
A shelter employee returned and put a noose around the dog's neck. Peggs said he leaped off the dog like it was a crocodile. The dog later was euthanized.
James needed seven stitches for her bites. Peggs was not hurt. Afterward, jail Warden Donald Lombardo gave Peggs three days off his sentence - an administrative discretion the warden is permitted under New Jersey law. Peggs, who works for Deptford Township's Public Works Department, is spending the weekends working off his remaining 30 days.
Since the rescue, some area residents said Peggs redeemed himself and deserved more time off.
"Really! Only three days? He probably saved her from death," reader Tina Thomas posted in Facebook comments in connection with a previous story about the rescue.
"They should give this man full credit for his sentence," commented Almore John.
"He saved that woman's life. To take just three days off his sentence is ridiculous. He did one hell of a courageous act," Hammonton resident Robert Seligman, 74, said in a phone call to The Press of Atlantic City. "He deserves a break. They should erase his entire sentence."
Sheriff Gary Schaffer said the three-day reprieve is the most allowed under the law.
Peggs said he is grateful for the leniency.
"I'm thankful for the days off," he said. "I didn't think about it. I was in the right place at the right time."
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