Like the tens of thousands of people around the world who have followed the story of Lennox, I was devastated by the recent ruling condemning him to death in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Lennox was a well-behaved, registered, perfectly assimilated family pet who was taken from his very responsible and devoted family over a year ago simply because he fit certain measurements which had been determined to constitute something called a “pit bull type.”
As in several other countries, states and territories, Northern Ireland has unfortunately continued to adhere to outdated and misguided thinking that assumes that a dog’s behavior can be determined based on the way it looks. Such breed-specific legislation (BSL) has been repeatedly shown to be ineffective in reducing the number of dog bites (its advocates’ usual rationale), primarily because it focuses on the wrong end of the leash. I’ve railed against BSL extensively in the past in previous articles and posts – you can read them here.
The Belfast City Council and the judge in charge of Lennox’s case watched and heard expert testimony by some very accomplished behaviorists such as the wonderful Sarah Fisher, but they ultimately appear to have chosen to put more stock in what they heard from a dog handler named Peter Tallack and some of the dog wardens that took him from the family's home. All three wardens were found to have lied under oath, but even this did not stop the judge from reaching his decision. That decision was a travesty and a tragedy. I watched video footage of two extensive evaluations of Lennox by Sarah Fisher and another accomplished expert, David Ryan. Suffice to say, anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of dog behavior would agree that though poor Lennox was a fearful dog, he showed amazing impulse control and trust in the strangers that were handling him. The overwhelming majority of video evidence I saw supports the family’s claim that despite the incredibly challenging conditions he’s been forced to live in for the past year, Lennox remains an innocent dog. Part of Tallack's testimony apparently highlighted the fact that a dog should not respond defensively even when being mishandled, including being hit, pushed around, poked in the eye and shouted at. If a dog reacts aggressively while being treated in this manner it is a dangerous dog. He obviously sets very high standards for these animals but I'm sure if he was pushed around and feared for his life, he would react accordingly in order to defend himself. Obviously in his mind, dogs should not do that.
Like the family and Lennox’s many supporters, I have been heartened and overwhelmed by the huge response since the verdict came down last Friday. The only good news is that there is a 14-day window before Lennox’s scheduled euthanasia, but this is primarily a procedural technicality and does not offer much hope of the judge reversing his unfortunate decision.
What this may do, however, is provide a glimmer of hope that we may appeal to some heretofore unseen shred of humanity in the legal decision-makers of this case to spare Lennox’s life by allowing him to be relocated to a jurisdiction that does not practice such draconian methods. We are exploring many options and I’ll certainly keep you updated, and you can check out the official Save Lennox page here.
I don’t agree with BSL. But when its failings as a concept and its cruelty in practice are publicly exposed as they have been in the case of Lennox, it truly sickens me. As supposedly civilized societies, we must begin to realize that we have a responsibility to do what’s right not just for us, but also for the animals that we’ve chosen to domesticate over the past several thousand years. As a passionate advocate for responsible dog ownership, I am more than aware of the need to find an answer to the issue of increasingly dangerous and common dog bites, especially on children. (Check out my dog/child safety tips and American Humane’s Pet Meets Baby campaign for more info.) However we must recognize that human education and awareness are the keys to solving this problem, not banning certain types of dogs. Any breed of dog can bite, and any breed of dog can be a great family pet.
Hopefully we’ll be able to save Lennox. Either way, though, his case has helped highlight what’s wrong with BSL and we must make sure that his story has not been told in vain.