Thursday, June 24, 2010

Family fight to save their pet seized by wardens

By Claire Weir, Belfast Telegraph

A Belfast woman is pleading for the return of her beloved family pet after it was seized by dog wardens.
Caroline Barnes said that five-year-old Lennox is a cross between an American bulldog and a Labrador crossed with a Staffordshire bull terrier.
However, staff from Belfast City Council called to her home and impounded him after he was deemed to be a banned American pit bull terrier-type.
Ms Barnes (34), a former veterinary nurse from Disraeli Close, says Lennox is neutered, micro-chipped, insured and DNA registered.
She has started an online petition to champion Lennox’s case which boasts almost 2,000 signatures.
“He has never had a complaint made against him,” she said.
“He lives behind secure fencing, he is walked on a lead and he was never allowed to roam.
“After the dog warden visited me to ask about my dog licence on May 10, she reported me as having a pit bull and on May 19 dog wardens arrived at my home and took him away.
“They telephoned us later the same day and said he must be destroyed for no other reason than his legs and muzzle are a certain amount of inches long.
“When I said I wouldn't sign him over to be destroyed when he has never done anything wrong, they said they would be prosecuting me and I could lose my job.
“My 11-year-old daughter Brooke is registered disabled and is distraught. She had an asthma attack when she heard her dog had been taken away and we are now in limbo, we have no idea where he is.
“The Dangerous Dogs Act needs changed — dogs are being taken because of the way they look. Lennox has done nothing wrong.”
North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds, who is also the family’s local councillor, has been championing Ms Barnes’ campaign for the return of Lennox.
The “appalled” DUP man called for a review of council policy.
“You see young men parading and flaunting dogs in people's faces — those are the people and the dogs that the public are concerned about, not a family pet in a family situation where all care necessary has been taken to make sure the dog was brought up in a responsible way,” he said. A spokesman for Belfast City Council said: “It is not the council's policy to comment upon individual cases that are or may be the subject of legal proceedings.”

Update November 14, 2010 6:15pm - The following article is from Belfast Telegraph:

Owner of death row dog Lennox tells of her family’s agony

The heartbroken owner of a pet dog which has been living on ‘death row’ for six months is still waiting to learn its fate after it was seized because it was deemed to be a dangerous breed.
Caroline Barnes said that six-year-old Lennox is a cross between an American bulldog and a Labrador crossed with a Staffordshire bull terrier.
However, staff from Belfast City Council called at her home in May, using what she alleges was a warrant for a different address, and impounded him after he was deemed to be a banned American pit bull terrier-type because of his leg and muzzle measurements.
Ms Barnes (34), a former veterinary nurse from Disraeli Close, says Lennox is neutered, licensed, micro-chipped, insured and DNA registered, lived peacefully with her other dog, was always leashed, muzzled and never allowed to roam unattended.
An online support campaign has received tens of thousands of messages of support, while his story has been covered extensively in the canine press as far away as the USA.
A recent undercover picture released to the family by a wellwisher supposedly showing Lennox in council kennels has worried the family even more.
Ms Barnes’ 11-year-old daughter Brooke, who is registered disabled, is said to be ‘very upset’ at the sight of the house pet sitting in a concrete kennel block on a covering of sawdust.
A court case is to be held on November 23 to determine whether Lennox is a banned breed.
A court summons was again, Caroline says, made out to the wrong address.
“Illegal dog breeds cannot be licensed or insured — Lennox has been insured since he was eight weeks old and Belfast City Council accepted my money to license him every year,” said Caroline.
“We have a DNA sample to prove he is not a pit bull, but apparently the parentage of the dog does not matter as long as it fits the measurements.”
Ms Barnes said that she was concerned about Lennox’s wellbeing: “We have not been allowed a visit or for our vet to visit him in confidence,” she said.
“We’re not sure, if we ever do get him back, how he will react after being isolated for months. My daughter Brooke can’t cope and is on a waiting list to see a counsellor.”
A council spokesman said that while he couldn’t comment on Lennox’s individual case because of legal proceedings, dog wardens acted “within the law”.
“The council doesn’t make the law; it is merely the enforcing authority,” he said.

Update November 22, 2010 6:05pm - The following article is from Belfast Telegraph:

Letters threat to dog warden duo

Threatening letters have been sent to the homes of two Belfast City Council dog wardens ahead of legal proceedings to decide the fate of a pet dog suspected to be a dangerous breed.
The letters, one drenched in petrol, arrived ahead of a court case scheduled for today to decide the fate of Lennox, which wardens argue is a banned pit bull terrier.
Lennox was seized in May but his owners deny he is a banned breed.

Update October 1, 2011: The following article is by Amanda Poole, from Belfast Telegraph

Pitbull Lennox's plight followed throughout the world

The story of Belfast’s death row dog has gone around the world. When the courts here first ordered that six-year-old Lennox was to be destroyed, the pitbull emerged as an icon for tens of thousands of dog lovers.

They don’t view him as a dangerous dog, but an adorable and innocent family pet who has been subjected to a witch-hunt. Caroline Barnes brought Lennox into her north Belfast home when he was just a puppy.

The family say he is the best friend of Caroline’s disabled daughter Brooke (12) and “soul mate” to Juicy the boxer. Lennox’s death row story began on May 19, 2010. It was noted that Lennox was acting aggressively when Belfast City Council dog wardens called at the Barnes home in Disraeli Court for a routine check regarding an expired licence.

Senior dog warden Alexandra Lightfoot suspected Lennox was a dangerous breed and tried to measure him, without success.

She claimed the dog was “bouncing on all fours” and hit her in the face with his muzzled jaw, sending her crashing to the ground. Lennox was then taken to council kennels.

Immediately, Caroline Barnes set up the website which attracted worldwide attention with respondents from across Europe, the US and Australia.

Some 44,470 have shown support for the Save Lennox Facebook page and a staggering 106,217 signed the Save And Release Lennox petition, for the attention of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. This emotive case took a sinister turn when threatening letters, drenched in petrol, were sent to two female dog wardens’ homes.

Following abusive emails, windows at Yolanda Elwood’s home were smashed, her car tyres were slashed and her son was also subjected to abuse.

Under the Dangerous Dogs (NI) Order 1991, pitbull terrier-type dogs are banned.

While it has never been recorded that Lennox has ever bitten anyone, experts concluded he was, indeed, from the banned breed and it was decided that he should be destroyed.

Ms Barnes, a former veterinary nurse, broke down in court back in March, saying she felt she had betrayed her daughter by failing to save their family dog from being put down. Brooke (12), who suffers from chronic asthma, wrote a letter to Belfast City Council asking it to save her best friend.

At a hearing at Belfast Magistrates Court on March 29, District Judge Ken Nixon ignored the family’s desperate pleas to release the dog.

He ruled that the dog’s “total unpredictability” made it a danger to the general public under the Dangerous Dogs (NI) Order, leaving Ms Barnes and her family heartbroken.

The Barnes family say that Lennox, who has been DNA registered, neutered, licensed, micro-chipped and insured, is an American bull cross, and is being put to death simply for the way he looks.

Their petition pleaded: ‘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.’

The family launched an appeal and in court last week it was revealed that Lennox was on an anti-depressant called amitriptyline, following a “kennel stress” issue where the majority of his coat hair fell out.

Dog warden Alexandra Lightfoot said anxiety medication had “mellowed” Lennox but added that he remained “a danger to the public and anyone around him”.

Ms Lightfoot said that from the thousands of dogs she has encountered in her 25-year career as a warden, Lennox was “probably the most unpredictable and aggressive” of her four-legged clients.

Sarah Fisher, a dog behaviour expert, gave evidence in the dog’s defence, but Peter Tallack, a retired dog handler who had been with the Met Police for 26 years, described the dog as “a problem waiting to happen”.

Belfast City Council confirmed Lennox is currently at a secret location, to protect council staff and ensure activists don’t try to abduct him.

Yesterday, at the final day of the appeal case at Belfast County Court District, Judge Henry Rodgers decided not to spare Lennox.

The conclusion of this 16-month affair is that Lennox does pose a danger to the public and he is a ‘menace to society’ rather than ‘man’s best friend’.

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