Dog owner in 'pit bull' labelling row ready to fight case in European courts
The owner of a dog seized by authorities amid claims it looks like a pit bull has said he is willing to take the fight to save his life as far as the European courts.
Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows' campaign to secure the release of their beloved Hank has won support from around the world.
An online petition attracted around 120,000 signatures since his seizure last week, and public donations to a legal fighting fund are approaching £15,000.
They insist he is a friendly and boisterous Staffie/Labrador cross, but dog wardens from Belfast City Council have told the couple they think he might be a pit bull - a banned breed.
If that assessment is upheld, and a subsequent court order for Hank's destruction issued, Mr Collins pledges to use any legal avenue available to challenge not only the decision, but also the very basis of the legislation used to determine if a dog is dangerous.
The 33-year student from Belfast said he would fight for the rights of all dog owners and was prepared to take the case to Europe.
"Neither of us are sleeping, we are not really eating - our routines are totally out the window," he said.
"It's completely turned our lives upside down.
"The only thing that has kept us going has been support from other people.
"Every time we look at Facebook or Twitter there are hundreds, thousands of messages and comments every single day, people showing their support."
He added: "This just really started off about Hank. Neither of us knew much about the legislation.
"We knew a bit, not much, but with the support we have been given, and the help we have been given, we realise it's not just for Hank, it's also because people feel very, very strongly against BSL - breed-specific legislation is one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation in the UK.
"I couldn't in all good conscience accept people's help and just purely only be concerned about Hank."
Mr Collins vowed not to give up on his dog.
"There are plenty of challenges open to us," he said.
"There is the High Court if it goes that far, our solicitor has even talked about the European court."
Asked if he was prepared to pursue the case as far as Europe, he replied: "Absolutely."
Celebrity dog trainer Victoria Stilwell and boxer Carl Frampton are among those who have backed Hank's online campaign.
Mr Collins and Ms Meadows also appeared on ITV's This Morning show to highlight their case.
A number of wardens and police officers removed Hank from his home in east Belfast last week, while nobody else was in.
Mr Collins arrived home to find a note taped to his door stating that Hank had been seized under dangerous dog legislation.
A week on, he and Ms Meadows, also 33, are still waiting for the council to undertake behavioural and measurement tests to determine whether Hank will be released, or face potential destruction.
Mr Collins thanked all those who had pledged money to their Just Giving legal fund.
"We just felt so overwhelmed because we know the council can afford to bring in experts and do whatever they need to do to prove their case, but what can we do as individuals? I am a student, Joanne is an administration officer, we don't have a huge amount of income," he said.
The case has prompted comparisons with a previous dog seizure controversy involving Belfast City Council.
In 2012, a family pet called Lennox was put down after the council determined it was a pit bull. The destruction came after a high-profile, two-year legal fight by the dog's owners.
A spokeswoman for Belfast City Council said: "The dog known as Hank has been taken in for assessment, and no decisions have been made in relation to his case at this stage.
"Our staff have been in touch with Hank's owners; we will keep them informed about the outcome of this assessment, and it would be inappropriate to comment further on this particular case while this process is ongoing.
"We would like to assure those who have expressed concern about the dog's welfare that he is being well looked after and his medical needs are being met."
The test will be two-fold - the first to determine if Hank shares the physical characteristics of a pit bull, the second to assess if he exhibits dangerous behaviour.
If he is not a pit bull, he will be released immediately. If he is pit bull and demonstrates dangerous behaviour the case will be passed to a magistrate to decide whether a destruction order should be issued. If he is a pit bull but is not deemed dangerous he could be exempted from a destruction order.