Dog warden and her family terrorised by hate campaign
A terrified dog warden has told of the abuse and intimidation she suffered at the hands of supporters of a campaign to save a family's pet dog.
Yolanda Ellwood, a dog control manager at Belfast City Council, said she was left “scared and threatened” by a hate campaign to free pitbull terrier-type dog Lennox.
A petrol-soaked letter, slashed car tyres and smashed windows at her home were just some of the attacks targeted at Ms Ellwood.
On one occasion her disabled son was left with a black eye after he was beaten up by a stranger who supported the campaign to free Lennox.
“I was not directly associated with Lennox but I was singled out as the target of hatred,” Ms Ellwood said.
“There were some horrible remarks made about myself and my colleagues — people said we were ‘evil bitches’, ‘murderers’, ‘Nazis’.
“There were calls for retaliation against Yolanda Ellwood, saying they were going to start with me. My name was all over the internet.”
Lennox the dog was picked up by council officials in May 2010 on suspicion of being a banned pitbull breed.
Owner Caroline Barnes launched a major online campaign to save the family pet, which belonged to her 12-year-old daughter Brooke, from being put down.
With more than 30,000 people worldwide joining the call to free Lennox, some supporters also launched personal attacks on the dog wardens involved.
Threatening letters were sent to the homes and workplaces of council officials in November last year, one of which was drenched in petrol.
Ms Ellwood said she received around 40 abusive emails a day and endured a series of frightening attacks on her family home.
She said she feared for her children’s safety after her disabled teenage son was attacked by a stranger in a pub.
“When the police brought him home that night you have absolutely no idea how I felt — I was sickened,” she said.
“I am a single mother and you don’t want to let your children out of the house after something like that.”
Since a judge ruled that Lennox should be put down for being a danger to the public, Ms Ellwood said the threats against her had worsened.
“On Monday and Tuesday of this week I was getting upwards of 70 abusive emails a day,” she said.
“I don’t see this stopping until a final decision is made regarding that dog.”
She said she didn’t in any way blame Miss Barnes for the intimidation that had been associated with her campaign.
“I don’t believe she’s behind the attacks and I think she would be horrified to be linked to it,” she added.
“I feel sympathy for her — we don’t want to rip a dog away from its owners, because we know how hard that can be.”
Miss Barnes, a former veterinary nurse, said she did not condone the use of violence or threats against the council dog wardens.
“That is not what our campaign is about — it’s a peaceful campaign,” she said.
“We’d prefer it if they didn’t associate themselves with us or with Lennox, as it’s not what we wanted.”
Lennox was picked up by dog wardens from Belfast City Council in May 2010.
Officers had called at Caroline Barnes’ home to check the dog’s licence when it was reported growling and barking aggressively.
Experts took the dog to kennels where its measurements were taken to confirm if it was a pitbull. Under the Dangerous Dogs (NI) Order 1991, pitbull terrier-type dogs are a banned breed. Earlier this week a judge ruled that Lennox was a danger to the public and should be put down.
Witch-hunt of maligned breeds is shameful
Lennox has become an icon for dog lovers worldwide. There are lots of other dogs like Lennox, all equally deserving and mistreated by the authorities. It is right that this one is seen as an ambassador for the hundreds that have been killed on the back of indiscriminate dog control.
I’m glad that the internet has made the stupidity towards dogs in Northern Ireland known across the globe. It is important that people know just how unfair this situation is.
The campaign to save Lennox has only been made possible through social networking on Facebook and other sites.
I don’t know how they have managed to galvanise such widespread support, but it has been effective across the globe.
Lennox’s story is a very powerful message and it is quite right that it has warmed the hearts of thousands of people.
There’s lots of legal mumbo-jumbo about pitbull terrier-types, classed because their ears are so long and their chests are so deep.
The reason Lennox’s case is so popular is because of people’s hatred of breed-specific legislation. It is like saying ‘let’s get rid of redheads or people with long noses because of how they look’.
We would be up in arms if this was about humans, so why aren’t we more excited about stopping the laws governing animals? Scientifically, there is no evidence of any relationship between aggression and the breed of dog.
I do not condone any of the violence or threats that have surrounded the campaign — we need to be sensible about this.
We should be ashamed of how we have treated this dog.
Dr Roger Mugford is an animal behaviour expert and leading campaigner against unjust treatment of dogs. He founded the Animal Behaviour Centre in 1979.