The story of Lennox, the dog sentenced to die under the U.K.’s “Dangerous Dog Act” has outraged animal lovers and animal rights activists across the world. The dog was seized from his family two years ago, in spite of the fact that he had no complaints against him.
Under the “Dangerous Dog Act” (“the DDA”), if a dog's measurements meet a “standard” for "pit bull types", the dog can be seized without warrant and sentenced to death.The Belfast authorities assert that Lennox's physical measurements meet this standard, even though the dog's recorded "breed type" is not on their list of dogs banned under the DDA.
The DDA assumes that physical traits can dictate a dog's behavioral tendencies - an assumption that has been contradicted by well known dog experts and virtually every major veterinary and animal control agency worldwide - all of whom have spoken out against breed specific legislation, such as the DDA .
A recent amendment to the DDA stipulates that the dog must also be proven dangerous. However, although Lennox has no history of aggression, and had no complaints against him, the Northern Ireland courts have refused to return Lennox to his family because the seizure predated the amendment.
The saga began on May 19, 2010, when dog wardens came knocking at the Barnes front door with a warrant (which was for a different address). The Barnes are a family of model dog owners. The mother, Caroline Barnes, is a former veterinary nurse. Lennox had been had been microchipped, neutered, DNA registered as an American bulldog/Labrador, insured, and even had a valid city-issued dog license. Furthermore, Lennox was not just a beloved family pet; he served as a therapy dog and best friend for Brook Barnes, the family’s disabled daughter.
In spite of all the fact that Lennox’s registered DNA type is not on the list of banned dogs, and in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, the wardens proceeded to seize Lennox from his family’s home, citing him as “of type” as a dangerous dog
The DDA, at the time, stipulated that Lennox be put to death, based solely on his appearance. The family hired a lawyer, and began a two-year battle to save their beloved pet’s life; a battle which has exhausted them emotionally, and financially.
In September 2011, two expert animal behaviorists, Sarah Fisher and David Ryan, conducted separate, extensive evaluations of Lennox. Both experts came to the conclusion that Lennox is friendly and posed no danger, and presented these reports to the court.
Inexplicably, the judge dismissed both evaluations, and instead relied on the opinion of noted supporter of the DDA, Peter Tallack, whose official role in the case was described as "breed identifier." Tallack offered his completely unsubstantiated opinion that Lennox was "waiting to go off", and in a stunning disregard for the basics of jurisprudence, Belfast’s Judge Rodgers agreed, referring to Lennox as "a disaster waiting to happen".
This meant that Lennox, a dog that had no history of aggression or misbehavior, was sentenced to die for a crime that hadn’t happened, and which he did not commit, on the premise that he might, at some undetermined time in the future, commit that crime.
When the Barnes appealed again in late January of 2012, their case was reviewed by Judge Rodgers, who - instead of rightfully recusing himself from the case- chose not to overturn his own ruling.
Over the last two years, the Barnes' requests to visit their family pet were repeatedly denied. The authorities have refused to even tell them where Lennox is being held. They have not seen their dog since he was taken from them by the dog wardens.
Then, on June 12, 2012, Ireland’s highest court turned down the Barnes’ last appeal. It now seems that Lennox’s fate is certain, and that the City of Belfast is determined to kill Lennox, a dog who has done nothing wrong.
Meanwhile, there have been numerous offers from around the world to take Lennox out of Ireland, thereby offering the City of Belfast a way to save face. The offers have included several notable and well-known dog behaviourists and experts.
The U.K.’s own Victoria Stilwell, celebrity dog trainer and star of “It’s Me or the Dog”, has repeatedly offered to accept Lennox, and take him to live with her in the United States. Stilwell vigorously opposes breed specific legislation, calling it, “"addressing the wrong end of the leash". Stilwell has offered to personally cover all the costs of re-homing Lennox with her in the United States.
Another viable re-homing offer has been extended by America celebrity dog trainer, Cesar Millan, known for his work with “last chance” dogs. Millan, who also stars in “The Dog Whisperer”, has offered to take Lennox to live with him in the United States.
Additionally, Jim Crosby, an impeccably credentialed dog aggression expert in the U.K. has presented official proposals to Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson (who has informally stated his disagreement with Lennox's death sentence on Twitter) and Northern Ireland Secretary of State Owen Paterson, whereby Crosby would visit Belfast -- on a pro bono basis -- to conduct an independent evaluation of Lennox based of his particular area of expertise.
Although Crosby is an opponent of breed specific legislation and has spoken out on behalf of Lennox, his offer emphasized that he would not criticize any preceding actions or opinions in the case.
Any of these offers should be a welcome solution to the City of Belfast’s current public relations nightmare. Yet, inexplicably, the authorities have refused to meet, or even discuss, these possible ways out of their dilemma, instead preferring to press ahead with Lennox’s execution, believed to be scheduled for July 12, 2012.
The City of Belfast has also ignored an outpouring of international appeals to save the dog’s life, including a "Save Lennox" petition, which has gathered over 193,000 signatures. Another, recently-created "Boycott Belfast" petition has gathered over 20,000 signatures. Additionally, thousands of people have commented through social media sites, including the City of Belfast’s Facebook page (the page has recently been taken down).
In a last effort to save Lennox’s life “A formal request for a royal prerogative of mercy has been made to the Queen who has the power to grant a reprieve or pardon. In a significant move, Peter Robinson, current First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has indicated that he has asked Michelle O’Neill, minister of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs asking her to review the Lennox case as a "matter of urgency".
Meanwhile, somewhere in Belfast, Lennox waits to die. Alone, in a dank, concrete cell, a dog who has done nothing wrong waits to be killed simply because he looks “of type”. Lennox is a victim of Belfast’s misguided policy and a few stubborn people who would rather take an innocent life, than admit a mistake.
The Barnes family has one final, heartbreaking request for Belfast: "…We will fight for our right to say goodbye. We cannot bear the thought that Lennox will die without being reminded of the hearts and hands that love him."