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Dangerous dogs legislation must target deed not breed, claims MLA Long

By Linda Stewart

Published 18/07/2016

Joanne Meadows with her dog Hank
Joanne Meadows with her dog Hank
Hank exploring nature
Hank wearing his Christmas jumper last year
Joanne Meadows with her dog Hank

The seizure of a dog in Belfast on suspicion of it being a pit bull has prompted calls for the law governing dangerous dogs to be changed.

East Belfast MLA Naomi Long said it was time that breed-specific legislation was ended for good and urged the minister responsible, Michelle McIlveen, to act quickly.

"As someone with a dog, it is unthinkable the distress that their removal and potential destruction would cause," she said.

"Hank's owners Joanne and Leonard have been in touch and we are looking to see what more, if anything, can be done to ensure that Hank can return home as soon as possible to his family and that breed-specific legislation is ended for good.

"I have argued alongside colleagues for some time that the law needs to change to focus on behaviour and responsible ownership, not on the type of dog - it should be the deed, not the breed, that matters.

"Sadly, it remains, and animals such as Hank are at risk due to nothing more than vague criteria about how they look. I hope that the new minister in DAERA will act urgently to make changes and that the legal case to save Hank is a success."

Owners Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows have launched a social media campaign to save Hank and more than £5,000 has been raised in less than 24 hours through a crowdfunding appeal.

They also won a lot of support when they attended a rally against anti-breed specific legislation in Belfast at the weekend.

"This outpouring of support is far beyond anything I could have comprehended. It shows it's an incredibly emotive subject and people have very strong opinions and want to help," Leonard said.

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He has called on Belfast City Council to use DNA analysis to investigate Hank's breed, saying that measuring his shape is too vague a criterion.

"The legislation is a very grey area. There are no standard tests carried out at all, other than the subjective opinion of one person - it seems insane," he said.

If the dog warden decides that Hank is a pit bull, the onus is on his owners to prove that he doesn't pose a threat and the cost is likely to run into thousands of pounds, Leonard added.

"I have no faith at all that these measurements will come out in our favour," he said.

"If they assume he's pit bulltype dog, it seems to me that the next legal step will be to apply for a contingent destruction order, which would suspend the council putting him down if we can prove he isn't dangerous."

Belfast City Council said there was no DNA or blood test that can determine if a dog is of pit bull origin. "The assessment is based on physical characteristics and temperament," it said.

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