I interrupt my series on my recent trip to Hungary to turn the spotlight on “Lennox,” a dog who, as I write, faces imminent death, if he’s not already dead.
If you’re on Facebook or Twitter, chances are good that you’ve seen references made to “Lennox” but glossed over the posts or “tweets” because his story isn’t relevant to you. Maybe you don’t know about “Lennox” at all, but have some dim awareness of a “fuss” in Belfast in the way of demonstrations and protests.
Now that I’ve got your eyeballs, allow me to bring you up to speed about Lennox and why his story affects you. You see, Lennox is about to be put to death for the simple reason that he’s the wrong breed. And what’s happening to him is coming to a dog near you. This is not hyperbole, it’s a promise I make based on the logical consequences of intractable laws made not out of logic, but emotion and hysteria.
Lennox’s nightmare began two years ago when he was seized from his family because of the United Kingdom’s breed specific ban on “Pit Bull Terriers,” or Staffordshire Terriers.
The law extended to Northern Ireland last year and under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1997, “bully” breeds can be put down if they are considered to be a danger to the public. Lennox had never bitten anyone and his family insists he is part Labrador Retriever. No matter. That’s close enough for Belfast.
While an expert dog handler retained by Mrs Barnes described Lennox as a well-handled family dog, an expert for the City Council concluded that the animal had a severe personality defect. Color me skeptical. In our own country, it’s been found that shelter workers and animal control officers are grossly inaccurate when ascertaining a dog’s breed. I have little faith in the expertise of a city politician’s ability to assess animal behavior.
Towards the end of the two year legal battle, his family wrote, “Lennox is a loveable 5 year old family member. He’s an American Bull dog cross that we have owned since he was a little pup. On Wednesday the 19th May 2010 he was taken from our family home by Belfast City Council as they believe he falls under the dangerous dogs act for Northern Ireland. The Council, without seeking any proper professional guidance declared Lennox to be a breed of “Pitbull Type” and so they wish to kill him simply because he has the appearance of said breed. Lennox has never attacked anyone or anything yet the council have removed him from his home where he lives with my wife, myself, our 12 year old Daughter and his soul mate Juicy, a 2 year old female boxer. Belfast City Council are pressuring our family to sign him over to them to be destroyed however we feel the need to fight his case, he cannot speak but we will be his voice! If this was a human we would declare this racism. We ask every kind hearted person for your support, don’t let them murder him.” See the petition here.
Last month, Northern Ireland’s most senior judges rejected an appeal by his owner, Caroline Barnes, to overturn the decision of two lower courts which deemed Lennox “unpredictable.” The final day of the 28-day reprieve ends tonight at midnight.
In my view, Lennox has become the poster child for why Breed Specific Laws are wrong. I’m not alone:
- Victoria Stilwell, internationally-renowned dog trainer and star of the hit TV show, “It’s Me or the Dog,” stepped in with her own campaign to save Lennox;
- Cesar Milan’s tweet, “I know about the Lennox situation. Its a decision I truly don’t agree with. My team is working to find a better solution to help #savelennox” turned into headlines and now, the Millan Foundation has become involved to “save Lennox.”
- Lennox has several Facebook pages and any number of blogs have dedicated themselves to his plight;
- A massive letter writing campaign was launched to the merchants and businesses of Belfast encouraging them to contact their members of Parliament to seek clemency for Lennox – and under threat that their own businesses would be boycotted;
- Protests both in Belfast and in front of the Irish consulate in New York City took place.
Both Stilwell and Millan have offered to pay all expenses and relocate Lennox to the United States to live out his life, but have received no replies. Doesn’t this lack of response make you wonder if the real point of Lennox’s death is more for the Belfast City Council to flex its muscle, and less about protecting the citizens of Belfast from one dog?
The Belfast City Council has given no indication the court order will not stand. “The council has a duty which it performs reluctantly in order to ensure public safety. Re-homing will not deal with the issues in this case- the dog has been found to be unpredictable and dangerous by experts,” said a spokeswoman. Lennox’s family have since been advised by their legal team that there are no grounds for any further appeal.
And so we wait.
And while we wait, let me assert that this isn’t an Irish problem. The North Country Gazette reported the story of “Oreo:”
In 2009, a one-year old dog named Oreo was intentionally thrown off a sixth floor Brooklyn roof top by her abuser.
Oreo sustained two broken legs and a fractured rib. Oreo also appeared to have been beaten in the past—several of the neighbors in the building where Oreo lived reported hearing the sounds of the dog being hit. The ASPCA nursed her back to health and arrested the perpetrator. They also dubbed her the “miracle dog.”
The miracle was short-lived. According to the ASPCA, when Oreo recovered from her injuries, she started to show aggression. After a series of temperament tests, the ASPCA made the decision to kill her. The New York Times reported the story the day before Oreo’s scheduled execution.
Pets Alive, a sanctuary in New York offered to take Oreo, explaining that they had experience rehabilitating dogs deemed aggressive and offering her lifetime care, including plenty of socialization and walks if the rehabilitation was not successful. They were ignored, hung up on and lied to. And the ASPCA chose to kill the dog instead.
That afternoon, Oreo lay dead, the victim not of her former abuser, but poisoned by the ASPCA.
As a result of Oreo’s ordeal, the Companion Animal Adoption & Rescue Act (CAARA), also known as “Oreo’s Law” would have insured that such a situation would never happen again in New York if passed by the NYS Legislature. The bill established standards for the care of abandoned, stray or seized animals and would have required the release of a shelter animal to a rescue group upon request of the rescue group prior to euthanasia of the animal.
I honestly don’t know the outcome of “Oreo’s law,” but debate over dogs like her were inspired by the proposal of this law. Many authorities insisted that the language of the law would not have helped Oreo and that New York should have considered, instead, a bill that would require public shelters to work with qualified rescue and transport coordinators with protocols in place for dealing with dogs with aggression or behavior issues.
Lennox has no history of such issues, but it’s enough that he looks the part. “Bully” breeds became notorious for their participation in dog fights, a role they were thrust into by man, or someone like Michael Vick, if you want to put a face on a dog fighter. Breed specific legislation went global years ago, and for all I know, may have started in my own proverbial backyard – Denver.
The available studies on breed specific legislation, however, all lead to the same conclusion: dog bites do not decrease in communities where breed bans and/or regulations have been passed.
In 1996, a Scottish study entitled “Does the Dangerous Dogs Act Protect Against Animal Attacks” looked at the three month period before and after the implementation of Breed Specific bans. The study found that the banned or regulated breeds were but a small percentage of bites, and that a different breed (which I won’t name) and mixed breed dogs were the most common breed involved (in 24.2% and 18.2% attacks, respectively), while the restricted breeds accounted for only 6.1% of the attacks. http://www.dogtrainingireland.ie/documents/klaussen1.pdf
From the Defending Dog web site:
In September 2002, the Administrative Court of Berlin ruled null and void the government of Lower Saxony, Germany’s breed specific law related to 14 breeds of dogs. This ruling was based, in part, by a study by Esther Schalke, PhD, DVM, which demonstrated that breed specific legislation was ineffective.
A 2006 Australian study entitled Breed-specific legislation and the pit bull terrier: Are the laws justified? concluded that the data collected in the United States to support the theory that pit bulls posed a unique danger to the public is flawed by methodological shortcomings. The study also concluded that the evidence does not sustain the view that pit bulls are a uniquely dangerous breed, and breed-specific laws aimed to control it have not been demonstrated by authorities to be justified by its attack record.
In 2007, a Spanish study compared dog bites reported to the health department of Aragon, Spain for 5 years before and 5 years after the implementation of breed specific legislation in the form of a Dangerous Dog Act. The Spanish study concluded, among other things, that there was no change in the number of dog bites reported, and that the restricted breeds, were responsible for less than 4% of the reported bites both before and after the BSL took effect
In June 2008, the Netherlands repealed a 15 year ban on pit bulls after research proved that it did not improve public safety and dog bite incidents did not decrease.
In March 2009, Italy repealed its long-standing breed specific law in which 17 dogs were identified as “dangerous breeds.” The breed ban was replaced with a law making owners more responsible for their pet’s training and behavior.
And under laws of Lennox’s own country: In June 2008, a report regarding the United Kingdom’s Dangerous Dog Act of 1991 was issued. According to the report commissioned by pet insurer LV, the number of people hospitalized for dog attacks has increased by almost 50% in the past decade — this is despite having breed specific legislation in place since 1991.
I could easily have named this blog entry: The 21st Century: a time of mixed messages. Some of us rail against the death penalty for people convicted of heinous crimes, but turn a blind eye when it comes to killing a dog simply because of its breed. We’re quick to denounce racism, but are passive in the face of breed specific legislation that does the very same thing to an entire species. We’ll participate in a vigorous campaign to have our favorite television show renewed, but become limp-wristed when it comes to writing a letter or making a phone call to voice our disgust with bad dog laws.
What is wrong with us?
I’ve come to think that we act only when our own personal interests are at stake. And this is why I come full circle back to Lennox. His story could be your story. Who will come to your aid when your dog is taken from you for no reason other than that he looks like a Pit Bull? You think I exaggerate?
Three years ago, I found a dog whose collar was missing its tags. She was well kept and as sweet a dog as I’d ever met, and clearly someone loved her. I carpet-bombed the neighborhood and surrounding areas with “found” signs that included her photograph, and reluctantly took her to the nearest shelter because my own circumstances didn’t allow me to keep a stray. At the “in-take” desk of the shelter, I was told that if I left the dog there, they would put her down immediately because she looked like a Pit Bull.
She was a Boxer. Not a great Boxer, but a Boxer. Boxer was close enough to Pit Bull for this shelter which operated under the auspices of Denver County where Pit Bulls, Staffordshires, etc., are guilty for having a pulse. You see, her behavior didn’t matter. Her appearance did.
Circumstances be hanged. I kept her in an x-pen in my garage until her owner discovered one of the posters three days later. They were ecstatic to see each other and the story had a happy ending. Had this happened in Denver County, however, she could have ended up in the heap of dead dogs whose picture appears above. I have no doubt that at least some of those dogs were once someone’s pet.
The Animal Rights groups are behind Breed Specific Laws, of course, and I’m sorry to offend any of my readers, but you are living in a fool’s paradise if you think that dog legislation won’t eventually impact you regardless of your dog’s breed. In discussing this issue with fellow dog fanciers, some of whom have been fighting the good fight for years, I’ve learned that animal rights groups have been able to pressure legislatures and city councils to ban *any* breed as long as it’s for “the public good,’ and all they have to do is to demonstrate a ‘precedent’ that a breed is dangerous, regardless of the circumstances. They’ll keep adding a breed to the list of “dangerous breeds” until the day comes when all dogs appear on the list. There have already been communities that have tried to outlaw dogs over qualifiers such as size, etc. How long before your breed is banned because it barks too much, has too much hair (problematic to those with allergies?) or its herding instincts are dangerous to small kids? Pick any arbitrary reason, in time, it will be reason enough for animal rights zealots.
It was among the darkest days of our country’s history when we did this with people. How much longer are we going to let this be “okay” with our dogs?
And how much longer before you do something about it?
Editor’s note: Lennox’s battle ended on July 11th when he was put to death.