Leonard Collins of Belfast, Northern Ireland, came home on July 14th to an empty home. No wagging tail to greet him, no wet nose kisses hello. Instead, he found a notice on the door from the Belfast City Council that a warrant had been issued and the dog was seized from his home. Now owners Leonard and Joanne are doing everything they can to fight the decision and get their beloved dog Hank back.
Collins, a student, had been at school when he got a phone call from his father. According to an interview given to BBC Radio program Good Morning Ulster, the dad frequently comes to walk Hank when Leonard is away at class, but there was no dog to walk that day. Neighbors reported that eight police officers and four dog wardens had come to take him away — twelve people for one dog.
When Collins and former partner Joanne Meadows asked why Hank had been seized, the Council could only tell them that they had received reports of them owning a Pit Bull Terrier – one of four breeds banned in the UK in 1991 under the Dangerous Dogs Act. Collins told BBC News that “the dog warden told him there were no problems or complaints about the dog’s behavior – only how he looks.”
Joanne and Leonard took their plea to Facebook immediately for help, with Joanne writing:
To whoever reported Hank to the council for “looking like a pitbull” — thank you so much for not even giving me the courtesy of speaking to me first. Your call has put my baby into the care of the council who took the time to explain to me that Hank will have his dietary needs met right up until they kill him for how he looks. And thanks to the dog warden herself who explained that although he isn’t dangerous he still has to die and that no, I cannot see him before they kill him. The only recourse I have is to take the council to court to fight the legally mandated destruction order. The real kick in the balls is that they will not allow me to see him, not once, not even to say goodbye.
Since this devastating debacle has begun, Joanne and Leonard set up an online petition for support that has reached over 68,000 signatures and is steadily on the rise. They have also started a CrowdFunding campaign to raise money towards legal counsel and fighting to get Hank back. They raised over £5,000 in the first 24 hours, and are now 72% of the way to their goal with nearly £11,000.
The couple have had Hank, now 2 years old, since he was a puppy. He is described as “extremely affectionate” and never having issues with aggression. Joanne and Leonard are reported by Belfast Live to have gotten him training recently for occasionally barking as people passed their door, and “to stop him being over–affectionate with visitors.”
After seeing pictures of both parents of the dog when they got him, Leonard and Joanne have always believed Hank to be a Staffordshire/Labrador mix. (Staffordshire Bull Terriers are not considered Pit Bulls in the UK.) They were also baffled that through various veterinarians and over a dozen professionals in the past couple of years, no one has ever expressed the opinion that Hank is a Pit Bull or banned breed.
However, the UK deems “dangerous” types by measurement (not by DNA). If Hank’s measurements fall within a certain category, he will most likely be sentenced to death. The only way that Joanne and Leonard have to stop this from happening is to hire a lawyer and prove that Hank isn’t dangerous.
Like most pet owners, Joanne and Leonard see Hank as more than “just a dog.” Leonard told Good Morning Ulster:
To me he is not a pet, he is a member of the family and he is treated as such.
Hank is licensed, neutered, microchipped, and insured to meet all city requirements. The couple are also distraught that Hank has a skin condition for which he does not have his medication with him. These people who have been loving and responsible owners of a dog that has shown no signs of trouble deserve to have their baby back.
A spokesperson for the Council gave comment on July 16th, as reported by The Newsletter and several other news outlets:
The council has a statutory duty in relation to the enforcement of the Dogs (NI) Order 1983 as amended. The dog known as Hank has been taken in for assessment, and it would be inappropriate to comment further while this assessment is ongoing. We would like to assure those who have expressed concern about the dog’s welfare that he is being well looked after and his needs are being met.
The suit is eerily similar to another Belfast dog named Lennox who was taken by the Council back in 2010. His owners also fought the suit, but eventually lost in 2012. We hope with all our might that the outcome isn’t similar as well.
Please be sure to sign Hank’s petition — the stronger voice we have, the better chance there is of saving this dog from unjust punishment and stereotype. You can also donate to Joanne and Leonard’s legal counsel fund here to help them fight the pending decision, and follow updates/show support by liking their page “Save Hank” on Facebook.
Remember, Breed Specific Legislation isn’t just wrong and cruelly biased, it’s also largely ineffective. All dogs, no matter what the breed, deserve to be judged on their actions and not on their breed or appearance.