Saving Lennox – The Dangerous Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1991

I’ve been faced with a dillemma today. Something I will never shy away from with this diary is speaking my mind, my opinions and views are purely that. Mine. I realise that some people may have differing views and as this diary is to help me raise funds for vet school possibly offending potential supporters is a slight concern. I however hope that people support me because I am strong willed, dedicated and committed to improving animal welfare and being a voice for those without their own. I do try to steer clear of politics as much as I can however I seem to be encountering them more and more often.

With that out of the way I have been following the case of Lennox over the past year. Over the past few days the Save Lennox campaign has been getting major attention and stealing my Twitter timeline. Lennox is a family pet in Belfast, with no history of violence who was seized by Belfast City Council on the 19th May 2010 under The Dangerous Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1991.

The Pit Bull was originally bred for a “gambling” sport where bulldogs were set upon a Bull in a pit whilst people placed bets. Obviously these dogs were bred to maximise agression, strength and a high pain tolerance. This inhumane sport was banned in 1835, and breeders then turned their attention to dog fighting. With so many dogs being bred for violence it was likely to backfire and in the late 1980’s it did with many dog attacks on humans. The Government rushed to act and introduced the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 naming four breeds as dangerous. The pit bull terrier was one (the Japanese tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro are the others), and the legislation left it open to the interpretation of a court based on physical characteristics. The only defence is the owner being able to prove the dogs linage.

In order to avoid complete outrage with the many pit bulls owned as pets the government implemented strict control measure requirements including the dog being muzzled and kept on a lead in public places, micro-chipping, having 3rd party insurance, and mandatory neutering. Obviously by doing this the aim was preventing these dogs breeding and so causing the extinction of the breed in the UK. These dogs also had to be registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs maintained by DEFRA on behalf of the government. Owners were given only a short period of time to voluntarily register their dogs onto this register which closed in 1991. Any dog not on this register is illegal and is subject to be seized and ordered destroyed (aka killed) by the courts.

In 1997 new legislation was introduced in the UK with the Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997, which reopended the Index of Exempted Dogs and gave courts the ability to use their discretion on a case by case basis. This legislation however did not reach Northern Ireland…

Back to today and a family pet that looks like a banned breed, with no record of violence that has simply been condemned to die because of decisions made 21 years ago. Actually we can even go further and say because of decisions made 100’s of years by humans to breed dogs for blood sports. You notice both of these are not problems with the breed, or the dog, but with human decisions?

Now the owners of Lennox have challenged this legally through several different courts all with the same judgement of death. Sadly the legislation gives only the one outcome, and even if a judge was logical their hands would be tied to the same outcome. Whilst it may not be a perfect system allowing judges to change laws would bring anarchy to the country. However there should be a system of regular review and refinement to ensure that legislation is working in the way it was intended.

Now the interesting part is trying to prove that Lennox is not a pit bull type, it doesn’t matter if Lennox is a purebred as the legislation covers all cross-breeds and mongrels. Generally in court the prosecution generally has the burden of proof, however in the case of Dangerous Dogs this has shifted so it down to the owner to prove the dog isn’t a pit bull type. This has been challenged in the European Court and found to be lawful. There are currently no genetic tests that can be used to definitely determine a dogs breed, so it is purely down to the physical characteristics.

With Lennox the solution that has been proposed other than having the legislation updated (which to me is pure common sense) is that an American rescue organisation will take Lennox back to the United States where such breeds are legal. Whilst there are systems in place for deporting humans, there is no such system currently for animals… Lennox is scheduled for death within the next week, is there any hope? There is a petition with at this point in time 187,000+ signitures (it only takes 100,000 in the UK to force parliment to discuss a issue…), international social media outrage, yet a lack of media coverage in the UK. With social media driving revolutions I believe social media can save a dog!

I have avoided including any claims I could not find solid reference for, however according to the official SaveLennox.co.uk website Belfast City Council made numerous mistakes, are keeping Lennox in unsuitable accomodation, and have acted unlawfully on several occasions.

Please sign and support the petition here: http://www.savelennoxpetition.co.uk/

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