I have been exercised in recent days about the case of poor Lennox. To my sadness and shame, I had done very little to add my support to this appalling case in the two years before Lennox’s destruction on Wednesday, despite being made constantly aware of it through the efforts of Dogs Today’s Beverley Cuddy and It’s Me or the Dog’s Victoria Stilwell amongst others. I suppose I thought that sense and logic would prevail through a competent justice system and that poor Lennox would eventually be reunited with the Barnes family.
For those of you who haven’t been following the story, here is a brief synopsis. A fuller version is available on Beverley’s blog and elsewhere.
Lennox was a five year old Labrador/American Bulldog cross who lived in Belfast with responsible owners who fulfilled all their microchipping and registering duties under Northern Irish law. HE HAD NEVER ATTACKED ANYONE OR ANYTHING. He was seized from the family home, accused of being a dangerous dog of the “pit bull type.” He was assessed by an ex Metropolitan Police officer on behalf of Belfast City Council (BCC). Independent, more expert evidence that assessed Lennox as being a calm, friendly pet was apparently suppressed. You can see all sorts of information relating to Lennox’s case here. DNA evidence of Lennox’s genetic heritage is not admissible in court so it appears that Lennox was condemned for being a banned breed, a “Pit Bull Type,’ merely on the basis of his appearance.
Belfast City Council kept the poor dog away from his family in deeply unpleasant kennelling for two years whilst the case was proceeding and going to appeal. Victoria Stilwell had concerns about his treatment during this time. Many people campaigned on his behalf and some idiots made threats to some of the Council’s staff. I believe that this sort of stupidity exacerbated the situation and caused Belfast City Council to dig their heels in more firmly and refuse to listen to any reasonable petitions on Lennox’s behalf. His family were not allowed to see him nor were they granted his body but were merely told that they would receive “some ashes” in the post. Belfast City Council obfuscated and refused to meet Victoria Stilwell, who had offered to export Lennox for rehoming in the USA, and refused to entertain any pleas for clemency. In the end, they did not even have the courtesy to inform the Barnes family that they had killed Lennox, and a campaign supporter who called them to confirm this was greeted with sheep noises over the telephone.
This case highlights that shabby treatment of dogs and worries me for the following reasons:
Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and Amendment 1997 (in Northern Ireland it is the Dangerous Dogs Order 1991) banned the following types of dog:
The Act also covers cross breeds of the above four types of dog. Dangerous dogs are classified by “type,” not by breed label. This means that whether a dog is prohibited under the Act will depend on a judgement about its physical characteristics, and whether they match the description of a prohibited “type.” This assessment of the physical characteristics is made by a court, and DNA evidence, though widely used in cases that involve humans, is not admissible in the case of dogs. Lennox was classified as a “Pit Bull Type” by appearance only, in the view of one ex-Metropolitan Police Officer.
I am completely against breed specific legislation as it potentially condemns innocent dogs, as was the case with poor Lennox. And let us not forget that he was also part-Labrador. ANY DOG, even a Labrador, can be brutalised by an owner intent on making it into a fighting dog or a rough tough-looking status dog. ANY dog. We must change Breed-Specific Legislation and concentrate on the DEED of the dog, and not the BREED. Remember, poor Lennox was innocent of any crime, except looking like a “Pit Bull type”
Many people seem to be against Staffordshire Bull Terriers (Staffies) and their crosses because of a general public perception that they are dangerous fighting dogs and cannot be trusted with people. In my view, this perception is media-fuelled and completely wrong. We are vilifying the wrong species here. Staffies have been bred with those huge jaws that grip things tenaciously and don’t let go by PEOPLE. They were indeed bred as fighting dogs by PEOPLE. Unscrupulous people. Whenever there is a case of a Staffie attack, it is easy just to believe the headlines but people don’t take time to discover that these particular dogs have often been raised in neglectful, brutalised homes. It is the owners who let their dogs down.
If a dog is nervous around other dogs or people it is usually for a reason, and the dog should be kept on a lead and muzzled if necessary. But so many owners breed these dogs unscrupulously and are too lazy or stupid to provide responsible leadership to their pets so the dogs end up up in rescue homes and, because of the breed’s undeserved reputation, they are difficult to rehome and left to rot or, sadly, euthanised. If a dog attacks or bites, it is the dog who is euthanised and the owner who failed his dog is free to harm another poor dog. I recently blogged about a horrid incident in which I was threatened in Beckenham Place Park by a thuggish owner when I intervened to stop him hitting his dog. The Police, when they eventually stopped the youths, could do nothing about the situation, as the dog was on a lead and under control. There was NOTHING wrong with the dog at that time but I felt sure the poor thing would have been turned into an anxious, angry fighting dog within six months.
Dogs trust us, their owners, to provide gentle but firm, positive leadership. This is why it is important to civilised people to train all dogs consistently from puppyhood to have a soft mouth, good recall and good manners in public. In my view, people who want a dog should be made to undergo a certain period of dog training with a properly qualified dog trainer BEFORE they are allowed to keep a dog. There are far too many people too lazy to provide even basic training for their dogs or even walk them. These people do not deserve their loving, trusting companionship, in my view.
Thinking more widely than the case of poor Lennox, though, my worry is this: if a council can come and snatch an innocent dog from a loving family, impound him and kill him with impunity whose poor dog is next? Cases of unscrupulous owners and poorly trained dogs, or owners who simply can’t be bothered to clear up or take responsibility for their own dogs have made our society unjustifiably fearful and biased against all dogs. The few have made things difficult for the vast majority of loving, responsible dog owners.
I have written about my Postman who decided to take his anti-dog grudge out on me and accused me, completely falsely, of having a dangerous dog. Now that the Dangerous Dogs Act is extended to include acts committed on private property, what is to stop anyone who knows nothing about how dogs making malicious, spurious or false accusations in this way?
I hope that Belfast City Council are at least held to account for their behaviour in this case and that there will be a full, public investigation to stop this happening to other family pets. Remember, if unaccountable council people can reject or suppress all reasonable, objective evidence and alternative courses of action to protect their own egos in the case of a dog, what else are they empowered to do?