How the Legal System Failed Lennox
Today people all over the world will be lighting candles in honor of Lennox, who, if the courts have their way, will be put to death in less than a week by Belfast City Council. I have become personally involved in this case, both as an expert and as an advocate for decency and humanity. Certain individuals and organizations have been engaged in a last desperate attempt to refute the evidence given by experts, who actually met and evaluated Lennox, and myself, who viewed all the footage of these assessments. I have been informed that a tiny part of David Ryan’s assessment where Lennox reacted to feeling threatened has now been taken out of context and released by itself as ’evidence’ that Lennox is a dangerous dog. I will explain Lennox’s behavior at that point in a moment, but what I want to stress is what is NOT shown, which is the rest of David Ryan’s hour long evaluation where Lennox allows a complete male stranger, David Ryan, to handle him, tease him, walk him, sit by him, lead him and touch him without any negative reaction whatsoever. In fact during this time Lennox was giving all kinds of pacification signals, choosing to turn away from David when he felt uncomfortable, rather than bite, maul or attack him. There has been so much misinformation and ignorance surrounding this case from the start, because unless you fully understand dog communication and signals it is easy to miss, as all of these people have, everything that Lennox is trying to communicate.
In my official report I stated: ‘Lennox showed a number of deference behaviours including turning his head away, licking his lips, turning his body and walking away, in response to David Ryan’s attempts to frustrate him. This is an impressive trait in any dog and shows a dog using submissive behaviour rather than offensive behaviour to cope in what is a relatively stressful situation.’
At one point Lennox lunged at David Ryan, the piece of video that has been released in a sad attempt, by those against Lennox and the campaign to free him, to show what a dangerous dog he is. This has in actual fact back-fired, because now it gives me no choice but to comment, as an expert with fifteen years experience of canine behavior and ten years of working with all breeds including pit bull types in the United States, on that particular reaction, that I included in my statement to the courts.
My report continued: ‘If a dog, that would rather practice avoidance and take himself away from threat, is unable to do so and the threat comes closer and does not allow the dog any chance to escape, the dog has no other choice but to respond defensively. Lennox reacted defensively when David Ryan approached him and Lennox was stuck between two chairs and the wall with nowhere to go to. He tried to get away but when this failed he lunged defensively at David Ryan. Even though this was a defensive gesture, Lennox still showed incredible impulse control and bite inhibition. A dog is faster than the fastest Olympic athlete when it comes to response time. If Lennox intended to harm David Ryan he could have easily bitten him while he lunged, before Mr. Ryan had time to react, but Lennox chose to warn him (a complete stranger) out of his space instead, rather than inflict harm, and this was impressive to see…… Lennox showed impressive restraint and lunged at David Ryan with the intent to warn him to go away from him, without harming him. ‘
You see, this is essentially what people do not understand. Behind every growl, snap, lunge etc is a dog signalling its intent. The intent is to warn someone or something out of its space. Aggression serves an important function, to increase distance, to get the threat to move away. Some dogs, especially those that have been dominated, suppressed or abused by a human, learn by that mishandling to not give these warning signals and suppress these signals, going straight to bite. These dogs are made dangerous because of what humans teach them in their attempt to curb unwanted behavior. The dogs that warn instead of going to bite are less dangerous because they are signaling their intent first. If this warning is not heeded, they will lunge or try another way of getting that someone to move away from them, still without intent to harm. This is what Lennox had no choice but to do. Believe me, he could have inflicted a lot of harm on David if he was truly the dangerous dog that some people believe he is and instead Lennox chose not to bite, maul, attack or inflict damage in any way, shape or form. He lunged and barked at David instead. When that was done, Lennox continued to show many appeasement and pacification signals as well as signaling his stress, such as lip licking and turning his head and body away.
I also witnessed Sarah Fisher’s assessment on Lennox and, again, most of her assessment won’t be shown because the world would then see how impressive Lennox was with yet another complete stranger handling him. At one point Lennox started playing with the leash, something that many bored dogs do, regardless of breed. At no point did he threaten Sarah, try to bite her or become aggressively aroused when she pulled the leash away from him and he released the leash when he was asked to. The prosecution’s ‘expert’, Peter Tallack, a police dog handler, was apparently dismissive of the majority of Fisher’s report, saying that she did not ‘challenge’ the dog enough and was more focused on building a rapport with the dog. In his ruling, the judge in this case showed yet another flaw in the execution of BSL, in that he clearly is not aware of the basics of dog behavior and basically decided to believe that Tallack’s confrontational approach rather than Fisher’s experienced and scientificially-based methodology was more influential in his decision-making.
The judge basically had a choice to make: do I believe the police dog handler, or a learned and internationally respected dog behaviorist with extensive experience regarding dog aggression. He apparently fixated on the fact that due to Britain’s BSL laws, she had little experience working with actual pit bull type dogs, finding that to be a major flaw in her credibility and authority. Yet again, this shows an ignorance at the heart of the problems with BSL: to conduct a behavioral assessment of a pit bull type dog does not require any special training or experience other than what would be required for any other breed of dog. Yes, they are a strong breed, but I have no doubt that Fisher has worked with countless larger dogs, including other bully breeds types, capable of inflicting as much or more harm than the strongest pit bull could.
The judge based his decision that Lennox was a threat to society on stereotypes, misleading ‘expert’ reports, and his own apparent distrust of strong dogs. In his ruling, Judge Rodgers repeatedly refers to an episode where Lennox jumped up on and knocked back the dog warden who came to confiscate him. Court records indicate that two other animal control employees witnessed this. Even though the actual behavioral cause and effect of such an action can almost always be successfully and appropriately explained, the main point here is that a person such as Judge Rodgers, who is unqualified to analyze dog behavior, can easily and mistakenly draw incorrect conclusions regarding the severity, motivation for and circumstances surrounding such behavior. If all dogs who jump up on strangers in their house were guilty of being dangerous dogs, there would not be many dogs left in homes. To fixate on this occurrence and point to it as further proof of Lennox’s dangerousness is reckless and misguided.
Every person can form and will form an opinion on a snapshot of behaviour they see, taken out of context and misunderstood by ignorance. Both David Ryan and Sarah Fisher have stated that Lennox is not a dangerous dog and I will stand by their cumulative years of expertise in the field of canine behavior, rather than listen to those who, through no fault of their own, cannot read or misunderstand canine ‘language.’
In the 18 months since Lennox was taken from his family and put in a stressful environment and situation away from those he trusted and loved most, he has been a pawn in a political game that serves to take a flawed piece of legislation, such as BSL, to an all time disgraceful level. BSL makes innocent dogs the criminals because of how they look, regardless of their actual temperament. Your money, taxpayers’ money, is being spent by councils to seek out and confiscate these breed types, taking innocent family members away from their families, rather than tackling the real issue of dangerous dogs. If Belfast City Council and other governments like it really want to keep a community safe, go after the irresponsible owners who either raise their dogs in a violent manner, do not socialize them or integrate them into society in any way, allow their dogs to wander off leash and do not heed any warning signs or make any attempt to curb aggressive behavior. Seek to penalize them to the full extent of the law, and protect your citizens by addressing the issue of dangerous dogs of all breeds, not spending your tax payers’ money on taking innocent dogs away from their families because of the way they look.
There are two sides to any story and there are always things that are said out of sadness, anger, frustration and pain. I do not condone violence or threatening behavior of any sort to any persons involved in this case. But whatever continues in the human battle over this issue, my frustration lies with the fact that regardless what has been said, the true experts’ opinions in Lennox’s case have been thrown over for behavioral opinions that were given by the prosecution’s expert Peter Tallack, even though he stated himself that he was not brought on to do a ‘behavioural test or assessment’ of Lennox, but to assess only whether Lennox was of pit bull type or not. He himself admitted that the ‘circumstances in which Lennox is being examined are not ideal’ and in this he was absolutely right. Even if he was brought onto do a behavioral assessment, you cannot do a proper assessment or get a true picture of behavior of any dog in or around the vicinity of the kennel where that dog is being confined and where it is experiencing fear, stress and confusion. To get a true picture of behavior tests should be done in all different environments and situations including confined spaces, the home environment, and other indoor and outdoor locations, on and off leash and different times of the day. As he stated, his examination was ‘90% physical conformation and only 10% behavioural’ and therefore his findings were, ‘based on how Lennox looks and not how he behaves,’ yet his statements on Lennox’s behavior under thephysical examination he was supposed to be conducting, were upheld and championed as key components of the judge’s decision to euthanize Lennox. I agree with those who say that you cannot predict future behavior in any animal just as you cannot predict it in any human. The judge also fixated on the concept that the dog is unpredictable. What dog isn’t? What animal isn’t unpredictable? If a dog is truly dangerous then I want that dog off the streets as much as the next person, but Lennox has been so unfairly treated in this case because of the situation that he was taken, the stress he has had to endure since his confinement and now the cruelty of those who seek to destroy him and his family with malicious particularly over social media, that someone needs to highlight the fact that from the start, Lennox was never given a fair chance. This case was decided the day Lennox was taken from his family in May 2010.
I myself have been threatened in different ways by supporting Lennox and his family, but that is what fear does. In order to hide the truth and serve a purpose, people will use intimidation tactics to scare others away, in an attempt to stop the truth from coming out. To the few that use threats against me and others, there are millions of people around the world singing with one voice. I am not alone, but am supported by those millions that are sick of seeing these witch hunts take place, when the real issue of dangerous dogs is not being addressed and people are still getting hurt or losing their lives to dog attacks because of irresponsible ownership. BSL tackles the wrong end of the leash and we should be putting our efforts into stopping future attacks by actual dangerous dogs, rather than putting the focus on taking animals away from their families because of the way they look.
Lennox is scheduled to be euthanized in a few days. Chances for overturning the verdict are slim, and having read the judge’s official opinion in the case, I hold very little hope that he will recognize he has let his personal feelings about this issue cloud his decision-making process. He has chosen to rely on people unqualified to correctly assess and describe the true nature of certain events relating to dog behavior. We will campaign for justice throughout Lennox’s life and beyond. We must learn from this and make Lennox and his family’s struggle a rallying cry for change.
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