Our dog Hank was taken from us and now we’re fighting the law
By Leonard Collins
I feel sorry for those who are yet to discover the bond which can be formed in a human/dog relationship. From taking a morning walk together to clear your mind or sharing a much needed hug at the end of the day, to choosing a new toy or treat for your companion, these activities become what you look forward to most.
Dogs are without prejudice and always let you know they are there without muttering a word. They transform the lives of the disabled, lower stress levels and provide comfort (just recently in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, therapy dogs were used to comfort bereaved families and friends), and even help the police keep our streets safe. They bring a great deal of happiness into our lives and assure we are greeted with bright eyes, wagging tails and perky ears, regardless of what time we arrive home. Human and dog can truly form an unbreakable relationship.
That’s how it was for Hank and I. When my partner and I returned home on July 14, there was no welcoming, slobbery kiss but instead a warrant stuck on the front door in his replacement. It had said Hank had been deemed ‘illegal’. Four police officers and eight dog wardens took Hank away without any warning and in that moment, my partner and I had our world turned upside down. We couldn’t make sense of it. Hank has never hurt anyone and he certainly wasn’t an illegal breed, but it turned out he was legally taken away from us based only on his external appearance.
During the exhausting and sordid battle leading up to Hank being returned home to us today, we realised that this had happened to many families before us who hadn’t been lucky enough to have their pooch saved.
People invest their lives into their dogs; watching them grow up and spending an endless amount on food and vet bills in order to cater to their individual needs. Having your dog taken away from your home without your knowledge should not be legal and so with the consent of those who have kindly donated, we have decided to fight the legislation at fault with the £19,000 we have crowdfunded on JustGiving.
The dangerous Dogs Act 1991 was initially brought in to encourage owners to be responsible with their dogs and to minimise the amount of dog attacks. Under the Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) in the UK, there are four dog breeds which are deemed as dangerous and are banned: The Japanese Tosa, Pit bull Terriers, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brazilerio. Since being introduced the BSL is not only accountable for innocent dogs being unnecessarily killed every year, but has also failed to show any evidence of reducing the amount of dog attacks which take place in Britain.
In fact, recent research has found that it is the family favourite breed, Labradors, which are reported most for canine attack personal injury claims. I imagine this is most likely down to the amount of people who own the breed rather than the breed itself. But you cannot judge a dog by its coat or size, they have individual personalities and dangerous dogs are often products of laziness and negligence.
The other huge problem with the BSL is there is no DNA marker for the Pit bull breed and so dogs are judged initially on external factors such as their size but also their personality traits, which most likely change and alter once placed into a strange environment with no familiarities.
When we were eventually told by the Belfast City Council that Hank would be assessed, although we knew he had never previously harmed so much as a fly, we worried about what state of mind he was in and whether he would pass or fail.
We can’t be fully sure what the main influencer was in the decision to return Hank to us but we believe it was a combination of public, media and political pressure. Hank has been spared but so many more dogs still face death.
Recently, a little girl had her best friend taken away under the same law. Darla is a Sharpei mix but was reported as looking like a Pitbull. Her mother has explained that Darla has helped her daughter, who has ADHD and autism, through so much and without the dog the family were distraught. Luckily, Darla has been returned however the trauma the family went through can never be taken back. So, together, let’s ensure no one else is inflicted with the pain and worry of losing a dog under this problematic law.