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Sunday, July 15, 2012

There once was a dog called Lennox

Lennox was a dog in Belfast. And he has been put down by Belfast Council officials.

The ultimate justification for the destruction of Lennox was under Northern Ireland’s Dangerous Dogs Order, “any dog of the type known as the pit bull terrier,” is considered dangerous. Dogs that fall under the definition of dangerous according to that law can be seized and killed.

I am uncomfortable with the concept that any breed may be automatically deemed dangerous and subject to seemingly immediate destruction - unless others take legal action seeking to halt it.

There is little doubt in my mind that the pit bull terrier can indeed be a dangerous animal in the right circumstances. However there is also the concept of the animal’s treatment and behavioural training at the hands of their owner. Any dog that is poorly trained and handled can be a problem. I still have vestigial scars on my left shoulder from a poorly controlled German Shepherd deciding to jump me years ago. Another breed that springs to mind is the Australian Blue Heeler. This breed of cattle dog doesn’t have an especially good reputation. They are very much a ‘one-person’ animal, loyal to their owner (not that I am especially comfortable with that description). Yet I have also known a Blue Heeler that was very well trained and managed, being a lovely animal if it had an opportunity to have a quick sniff and decide that you aren’t necessarily a risk. Yet another example comes from acquaintances of mine who bred Doberman Pincers, showing them. These were also properly behaviourally conditioned to be around people, not vicious guard animals. I recall one time their prime stud male curling up on the floor next to me, his head resting on my thigh.

In Australia at least, ‘working’ greyhounds when being walked as exercise for their racing, are required to wear muzzles in public. This is because they are conditioned to chase. Yet there have been significant successes in reconditioning greyhounds after their racing days are over. I regularly see one at a nearby shopping centre. Its reconditioned temperament is simply lovely. I know that it definitely likes a scratch behind the ears.

Is there a need for potential legal action when an animal is genuinely dangerous? Undoubtedly so. In the infamous Michael Vick fighting dogs incident, many of the retrieved animals were hopelessly conditioned to attack and fight. But we also have to consider the owner’s role in any dangerous activity that a dog engages in. In Vick’s case he went to gaol, although not for long enough in my opinion.

Returning to the Lennox matter, this dog was not finally condemned for attacking people or similar, but condemned for being identified as a pit bull terrier and therefore dangerous. There has been a great deal of information all over the Internet on the subject and after going through a heap of it, I am yet to find any suggestion let alone evidence of exactly what activity lead to Lennox even being investigated. However the formal statement by Belfast City Council after Lennox was put down, expressly states that he was an “illegal pit-bull terrier type” with that the justification for his destruction.

Lennox’s owners have been adamant that he was not a pit bull but a Labrador-bulldog mix. Obviously I cannot state with certainty which story is correct. But we can look at a couple of pictures.


Here is a picture of Lennox

And here is a picture of an American Pit Bull, the breed at the centre of Belfast’s Dangerous Dogs Order. Are there similarities to Lennox? Yes. However, there are definitely differences as well.

American Pit Bull

Now here’s a picture of a black Labrador Retriever.
Black Labrador Retriever
Uh oh –which one does Lennox look more like? To me, there Labrador appearance is pretty strong.

I’m hearing alarm bells ringing. Is it indeed possible that this animal was destroyed for being a Pit Bull when it’s owners were indeed correct in their claim it was not a Pit Bull but a Labrador-Bulldog cross, neither of which would seem to be subject to that automatic destruction order?

The nub of the situation, supported by the Belfast City Council statement, appears to be that it is lawful for them to declare an entire breed illegal and automatically destroy any animal for just looking like that rather than investigate on specific circumstances. I really do have problems with that. And if it was a lawfully enacted statute, no matter how much we may dislike it, then court action trying to get around action being taken under that statute was always going to be hard to win, not matter the personal opinions of anyone, including the judges hearing the case.

According to final statements by Lennox’s owners, they were refused permission to see him one last time before the destruction. Now that was definitely unnecessarily draconian by the authorities. All the indications are that this was the family pet.

Things aren’t all good on the side of some of the Lennox supporters either, if other statements by the Council are true, with acts and threats of violence against Council members and employees.  That most certainly was not justified and can only have damaged the cause.

I am unable to ascertain the exact origins of the original action against Lennox but there is enough in this story to suggest that this Dangerous Dogs Order is unnecessarily draconian and based on the Council’s formal statement that Lennox was an “illegal pit-bull terrier type,” based on the photographic evidence above, this identification may well have been incorrect in which case a miscarriage of justice would have been done.

It is too late to do anything for Lennox but I can only hope that a more reasoned, realistic and accurate approach is taken in future.

Now if you have an opinion on what I'm blathering about or even just feel like saying hi, then don't be afraid to leave a comment or post something to me via Twitter or Facebook. I don't bite - at least not always.

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