Two Year Battle for Dog’s Life Ends in Tears
For the first five years of his life, Lennox, a stocky black dog living in Northern Ireland, had a happy and well-adjusted life. Caroline Barnes, his owner, was an old hand at raising dogs. She often had several foster dogs in the home, as she served as a foster "parent" for some of the animal shelters that serve Northern Ireland.
So when Barnes adopted Lennox as a puppy, she did everything a conscientious pet owner would do. She had him neutered, vaccinated, licensed, insured, and microchipped, as well as having his DNA registered and Pet Safe registered. As he grew, Lennox was well contained in the family’s fenced yard and he was always attached to a lead when he was walked through the neighborhood. According to Barnes, Lennox never roamed on his own and he never frightened anyone or gave anyone cause to make a complaint.
When three Belfast City Council Dog Wardens came to visit one day in May of 2010, Barnes served them tea and chatted with them as they greeted and socialized with the family’s dogs. They then took out a simple dressmakers’ measuring tape and measured Lennox’s leg length and muzzle width. According to some standards, if the femur (thighbone) is shorter than the tibia (shinbone), the dog is classified as a pit bull type. Based on the measurements they took that day, the wardens decided that Lennox was a pit bull type and was therefore a menace to the community. That Lennox did not have a prior history of aggression toward humans or other animals was never considered; he was taken away that very day to be put to death by the state.
For the next two years, the Barnes fought an unremitting battle with the courts to save the life of their dog. Sympathizers from across the globe joined their cause, with petitions that garnered more than 200,000 signatures, letters to the council and courts, threats to boycott the City of Belfast, all to no avail. Celebrities joined the cause, with dog trainer Victoria Stillwell offering her opinion based on the assessment videos that had been made by the Belfast City Dog Wardens Department and concluding that Lennox did not pose a danger to the public; again, to no avail.
As the situation continued to head toward a tragic conclusion, Stillwell offered to rehome Lennox in the U.S. at her own expense. Although Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson supported the rehoming plan, she was to never receive a reply. Robinson was quoted by the Telegraph UK as saying, "As a dog lover, I am very unhappy with the outcome of this case."
Pit bulls as a rule are illegal in Ireland, and all classified "pit bull types" are destroyed, with few exceptions. Could Lennox, even without the prior history of aggression, have become an aggressive dog based on his breed — assuming that he was in fact a pit bull type? According to former police officer Jim Crosby, who has spent considerable time examining cases in which dogs have killed people, "[Dangerous dogs] have as many faces as human killers. I have seen dangerous dogs that looked like pit bulls, and like huskies, and like rottweilers, and Chihuahuas, and Labradors … they all have one thing in common: They have exhibited observed behavior that shows they present a clear danger, or have behaved in a way that caused serious injury or death." (Source: Guardian UK)
A spokesman for the Belfast Council, quoted by the Belfast Telegraph, said that Lennox had been described by the Council’s expert "as one of the most unpredictable and dangerous dogs he had come across."
That statement does not mesh with photographs of one of the wardens petting and hugging Lennox while allowing him to lick her face. The same warden later took the stand and claimed that she was terrified of the dog.
Other photos of Lennox have showed him in a concrete holding cell, with sawdust for bedding and feces on the floor around him. He had lost a considerable amount of fur, and according to Stillwell, after viewing the videos of him, he had visible neck and foot injuries.
In the end, Caroline Barnes wrote a message on her website, SaveLennox.com, saying, "We do not wish to prolong his suffering any longer by engaging in a battle that we simply cannot win."
Lennox the dog was put to death on the morning of July 11, 2012. He was seven years old.