10 Jul 2012

Can international campaign save Lennox the dog?

Despite a 200,000-strong petition, a rally in New York and an appeal by the first minister of Northern Ireland, Lennox the dog is expected to be put to death this week after a two-year legal battle.

Campaign to save Lennox the dog comes to a climax

Few family pets have elicited the scale of international support as Lennox, a dog categorised as an illegal pit bull-type and sentenced to death in Belfast under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

Almost 200,000 have signed a petition appealing for Belfast City Council to waive the sentence and a US-based animal rights group, No Kill New York, on Monday staged protests outside the city’s British and Irish embassies pleading for Lennox’s life to be spared.

In the last week, celebrity dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, presenter of It’s Me or the Dog has stepped into the debate, offering to effectively adopt the dog in the United States, and even Peter Robinson, first minister of Northern Ireland, has put his weight behind the campaign: “Spoke to Lord Mayor about Lennox. Suggested BCC (Belfast City Council) should seriously look at re-homing option,” he tweeted last night. “Why exercise the order if there’s an alternative?”

Two-year legal battle

The plight of Lennox started two years ago, when the dog was seized from his home in 2010. A two-year legal battle ensued until Northern Ireland’s most senior judges last month rejected an appeal by owner Caroline Barnes to overturn the decision of two lower courts which deemed him “unpredictable”. Midnight on Tuesday 10 July is the final day of the 28-day reprieve.

It doesn’t make any sense. He has never bit anyone, even in the whole two years he’s been in kennels, which is a stressful situation. Kellie Wetton

The dog was categorised as an illegal pit bull-type after fitting a set of specific measurements, but his family and campaigners say he is part Labrador, part American bull dog, and a range of dog behaviourists argue that he has never bitten anyone.

Nonetheless, the United Kingdom has a breed-specific ban on American Staffordshire terriers, more commonly known as pit bulls, which was extended to Northern Ireland last year. Under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1997, pit bull-type dogs can be put down if they are deemed a danger to the public – something that Lennox’s family argue has not been proven.

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‘Never bitten anyone’

Family friend Kellie Wetton, who has also set up the Save Lennox campaign, told Channel 4 News that the family accept he will not be coming home and that all legal options have been exhausted. “We’re now asking that he be allowed to go with a well known dog behaviourist – it will cost them nothing,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense. He has never bit anyone, even in the whole two years he’s been in kennels, which is a stressful situation.”

As the countdown to midnight gets underway, hashtags #SaveLennox and #SaveNIOne have taken hold of Twitter.

Belfast City Council has given no indication the court order would not be upheld. “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.

But on Tuesday, the council also reported that it had received threats from Lennox supporters and reported them to the police. Over the last two years, staff at the council have reported other attacks, such as tyres being slashed and a petrol-soaked letter being delivered to a house.