A concession has been made that could end the months-long drama surrounding Memphis the pit bull that's gripped the entire township of Bloomfield.
Dog trainer Jeff Coltenback has agreed to drop all litigation so long as he and wife Diana are allowed to adopt Memphis. The compromise was offered after he and Bloomfield Health Officer Mike Fitzpatrick were guests on internet radio talk show "Ask Sue" last Saturday.
During the three-hour show, Fitzpatrick challenged Coltenback to take seven other dogs, including some pit bulls, that have been housed at the town's animal shelter for six months.
"Instead of fighting over one dog, let's look at the masses of dogs that we have, that society has, that need to be dealt with in a positive way …" said Fitzpatrick.
Coltenback, who went on air after Fitzpatrick, accepted the challenge at Monday night's council meeting with the caveat of being allowed to also adopt Memphis.
"I accept the challenge. I request Memphis be added as No. 8," Coltenback said during public comment.
Found as a stray in Bloomfield and taken into the Bloomfield John A. Bukowski Shelter for Animals in February, Memphis has been at the center of an ongoing battle between the township's Board of Health and Coltenbacks after the dog was taken away from the dog trainers. Memphis, who was ruled unadoptable for now by dog behavior experts, has since been moved to an undisclosed location for rehabilitation.
Coltenback also agreed Monday to drop all litigation, including a $1 million lawsuit filed on his behalf by the Lexus Project against the township and a possible personal suit against Fitzpatrick in wake of the radio show.
"Why does Mike Fitzpatrick think I can handle eight dogs with extreme restrictions but not one? You'll have to ask him," said Coltenback.
Four of the dogs Coltenback agreed to take from the shelter, he said, cannot be around cats, children or other dogs. He said placement has already been found for six of the seven dogs.
At the council meeting, residents lambasted some of Fitzpatrick's remarks on "Ask Sue," particularly his claim that Memphis was found in town near the border of Newark and that the dog was believed to have been trained by "nefarious" owners.
"We believe Memphis may have actually been trained or brought up when he was a young dog to possibly work and protect like a drug den," said Fitzpatrick on the radio show.
Fitzpatrick added nothing is known about Memphis' prior situation or owners.
That claim, residents said, was misrepresentative of Bloomfield – and the pit bull.
"…(Memphis) is not the dangerous monster dog he's made out to be," said Nellie Reynolds, a former longtime volunteer at the animal shelter who worked with the pit bull for a month.
Fitzpatrick did not immediately return a message left Tuesday morning seeking comment.
But an end to the Memphis saga may not be in sight. Coltenback, who will attend Thursday's Board of Health meeting to accept Fitzpatrick's challenge, doesn't believe the deal will actually pan out.
"They're not gonna hold up their end of the bargain," he said.