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Emotional reunion for Hank and owners as judge frees pet from death row

Weeks after council seized their dog for appearing to be a banned breed, couple overjoyed to have him home

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 03/08/2016

Hank is home and a special 'doggie cake' was there to welcome him from owners Joanne Meadows Leonard Collins. Photo: Alan Lewis/PhotopressBelfast.co.uk
Hank is home and a special 'doggie cake' was there to welcome him from owners Joanne Meadows Leonard Collins. Photo: Alan Lewis/PhotopressBelfast.co.uk
The couple enjoy a happy reunion with their beloved pet dog Hank
The couple enjoy a happy reunion with their beloved pet dog Hank
The couple enjoy a happy reunion with their beloved pet dog Hank
A special homecoming treat for Hank
Muzzled in public, Hank gets a treat after his release to his ownersJoanne Meadows and Leonard Collins. Alan Lewis- PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 2-8-2016
Hank is home and a special 'doggie cake' was there to welcome him from owners Joanne Meadows Leonard Collins. Image: Photopress Belfast
Alan Lewis- PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 2-8-2016 Hank gets a drink of water after his release to his Joanne Meadows and Leonard Collins are delighted. Hank was released after twenty days in the custody of Belfast City Council subject to agreed conditions. Someone had complained that Hank looked like a Pitbull and under the Northern Ireland Breed Specific Legislation, the dog was seized and held by Council dog wardens pending today's outcome in court.
Alan Lewis- PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 2-8-2016 Muzzled in public, Hank gets a treat after his release to his ownersJoanne Meadows and Leonard Collins. Hank was released after twenty days in the custody of Belfast City Council subject to agreed conditions. Someone had complained that Hank looked like a Pitbull and under the Northern Ireland Breed Specific Legislation, the dog was seized and held by Council dog wardens pending today's outcome in court.
Alan Lewis- PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 2-8-2016 Hank is home and there were messages and bundles of peresents from all over the world there to welcome him with owners Joanne Meadows Leonard Collins. Hank was released after twenty days in the custody of Belfast City Council subject to agreed conditions. Someone had complained that Hank looked like a Pitbull and under the Northern Ireland Breed Specific Legislation, the dog was seized and held by Council dog wardens pending today's outcome in court.
Muzzled in public, Hank, is released to his owners Joanne Meadows and Leonard Collins. Image: Alan Lewis- PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 2-8-2016
Hank with a thank you message for his supporters
Hank back home with his owner Leonard
Alan Lewis- PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 2-8-2016 Muzzled in public, Hank is released to his owners Joanne Meadows and Leonard Collins. Hank was released after twenty days in the custody of Belfast City Council subject to agreed conditions. Someone had complained that Hank looked like a Pitbull and under the Northern Ireland Breed Specific Legislation, the dog was seized and held by Council dog wardens pending today's outcome in court.
Hank is home and a special 'doggie cake' was there to welcome him forom owners Joanne Meadows Leonard Collins. Image: Photopress Belfast
Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows leave Laganside court victorious as they win back custody of Hank on August 02 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph )
A judge at Belfast Laganside Courts has ruled that pet dog Hank can be freed after it was seized last week by the City council. Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows pictured outside the court after the ruling. The pair launch a global campaign after dog wardens seized their pet from their east Belfast home. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye
Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows leave Laganside court victorious as they win back custody of Hank on August 02 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph )
Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows leave Laganside court victorious as they win back custody of Hank on August 02 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph )
Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows leave Laganside court victorious as they win back custody of Hank on August 02 2016 ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph )
Hank's owners Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows speaking to the Press outside Belfast's Laganside Courts. Picture: Kevin Scott
Joanne Meadows with pet Hank
Owners Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows yesterday
Owner Leonard Collins with pet Hank
Hank the dog with owner Joanne Meadows
Leonard Collins with his dog Hank, who was seized by authorities amid claims that he looks like a pit bull (Leonard Collins/Joanne Meadows/PA)
Hank with his owner Joanne Meadows
Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows at home after their dog Hank was seized by Belfast City Council
Hank as a pup

The owners of Hank the dog have said they are overjoyed to be reunited with their pet.

Hank returned home last night, nearly three weeks after he was seized by Belfast City Council because he appeared to be a banned breed.

Although an expert said he was a pit bull terrier type - currently outlawed in Northern Ireland - yesterday it was ruled that he could be released.

There was applause at Belfast Magistrates' Court after a judge ordered Hank's exemption from the list of banned breeds.

Owners Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows spoke of their relief to have him back. Joanne said: "I missed him so much."

Earlier, she fought back tears after Judge Ken Nixon confirmed that the dog would not face destruction.

Hank was seized from his east Belfast home on July 14 by a team of eight police officers and four dog wardens.

The move followed a complaint from a member of the public. When officers attended, they identified the dog as a potential pit bull. It showed signs of "agitated behaviour", the court hearing was told.

Hank's owners were not present, but he was seized after a warrant was executed.

It prompted an enormous online campaign, with almost 300,000 people signing a petition to save the animal.

Jillian Bearns, Larne with Dixie & Dexter say welcome home to Hank
Jillian Bearns, Larne with Dixie & Dexter say welcome home to Hank
Sofia welcomes Hank from Chile. Sender: Paola Chavez Pacheco
From Marley & Lyka in the hills of Donegal
Happy for Hank from Lesley Beak in Canada.
Welcome home Hank from Dora, Alfie and Molly. Pic: Marcella Mervyn
Mia McKinty and her friends from Bangor send a warm word of welcome home to Hank and his family
Welcome home Hank from Suki and Simba. Pic: Nic Cullen Belfast.
A big welcome home from Mr Darcy & his friend Mao the cat in Dublin.
Welcome home Hank from Troy who sleeps most of the day but is still very happy that Hank has been released. From Janet and Noah
"Welcome home Hank! So glad the right thing was done! Bruce, my 14-week-old boxer is glad too" from Kerry Campbell Omagh, Co Tyrone
Luca Burns from Cork says welcome home Hank
Jack and Poppy and their owner Jane Bailie from Bangor wish Hank all the best for the future
Ollie and his owner Pat Canning from Belfast tell Hank that he's welcome to their home anytime
Riley and his owner Helen Bindley from Larne wish Hank every happiness in the future
Paddy and Reilly, Irish Water spaniels, from Co Down, hope that Hank will be home soon
Jess and Jodi Moore-Skelly welcome Hank back home
Inca the poodle of the McClatchey family welcomes Hank back home
Monte, Derry and Tripoli from Seattle and cared for by Dave Geisert are are anxiously looking for Hank to get back home
Renata Paluch from Hull are delighted that Hank is getting to go home
Macey and Bella Johnston send Hank their love
It's a woof woof from Bobby Beattie
Here's Toby the Springer Spaniel from Ballymena
Pretty Tilly McKevitt from Portadown is delighted that Hank is going back to his family
Tillie and Henry Wellstead say welcome home to Hank and back to the cuddles that you deserve
'Welcome home Hank from a fellow Bully'
Pluto Beveridge really is happy that Hank is getting home
Lucy (jack russell) and Reggie (rottweiler) send Hank their love from Luton
Poodle Freya and her ownerJenella are delighted Hank is coming home
Tazz is delighted Hank is getting home
Husky pack Duke, Sky, Max, Arya, DJ and Roman welcome Hank home
Frank and his family in Belfast are delighted that Hank will be released
Even cats are delighted that Hank the dog is coming home
Pippa and her humans Michelle, Mark, Matthew and Chloe from Magheralin Co.Armagh are so happy Hank's life has been saved.
Welcome home Hank!! ????from Karen and Alfie Castlederg xo
Rescue dogs Rudy and Lexie from Armagh want to welcome Hank home. Owner Paula said: "they both came from council pounds so they know how it feels to be locked up".
Welcome home Hank lots of love Rebel and Bubba from Lisburn
Welcome home Hank from Karen Connor & Amy the pom from Bangor, Co Down
Welcome home Hank. Paws and licks from Cotto, Ballymena.
Tax Button and Poppy say #hanksaved
Welcome home Hank
Welcome home Hank
Hughie from Belfast says welcome home Hank - you deserve a huge pat on the back and lots of doggy treats after all you've been through #braveboy
Welcome home Hank from Dexter!
Lynn Paul, from Ballysillan in Belfast with Max.
From Pauline Sleator
My dog Fern and I would love to wish Hank a happy homecoming! We are in New York City, where many happy pit bulls live without being banned. Fern is a certified therapy dog that volunteers with senior citizens:Jillian Hayes.
Welcome home Hank from Sophie the Staffie and Peter Knight, Ballyholme, Bangor.
Gina Love and her pet Goober from the Shetland Islands welcomed Hank home.
Here's looking at you kid! Welcome home Hank from Jeannie and Sherrie. Sent in by Rosemary Craig.
Kelly Anne Webster says: "We havnt stopped thinking about Hank an Pixie wants to say 'Welcome Home'" You will never go through this again."
Owners Leanne and Stevie with Rafa 7 and Harley 6 from Bangor
Mel McConnell from Newtownards: "This is Suki my 9 yr old jr terrier welcoming Hank home"
From Allison McKenna, Belfast
Quinton - from Anya Connor in Belfast.
Welcome home Hank from Coops.
Welcome home Hank from Reggie the Jack Russell and his friend Pebbles the tabby cat in Coleraine.
Welcome home Hank from Max. Pic: Nicola Totten
Diesel, Logan and Kaiser say welcome home Hank.
Welcome home Hank from Meg. Pic: Ann Marie Smith.
Welcome home Hank from Niko, Nhala and Storm. Pic: Karen Dando
Welcome Home Hank from Poppy in Newtownabbey. Pic: Lyndsey Minford
Welcome home Hank from Phoebe and Ruby. Pic: Erin McAllister
Welcome home Hank from Pippin.
Maddie in Ards says Welcome home Hank. Pic: Amy Black
Welcome home Hank from Tiny in Dungannon.
Hugo and Sully from north Belfast say Welcome home Hank. Pic: Leah Davis
Walt from Belfast says Welcome Home Hank. Pic: Russell Adams
Walt from Belfast says Welcome Home Hank. Pic: Russell Adams
Welcome Home Hank. Pic: Anna Salmon
Pixie and Benjie, from owner Laura mcmahon in Belfast
Troy and Baby Girl, from east Belfast from owner Sharon Brown.
Roxi from Bangor from owner William Bradford.
Claude from Belfast, owner Anya Connor.
Boxer Cara and Jackhuahua Pepsi welcome Hank home from Paula Beattie and family, Carryduff.
Welcome home Hank!! Such fabulous news! Lots of love from Manni and family from Liz Clark.
Cooper from Newtownards.

The pet was examined by canine behaviour expert Peter Tallack last week.

He concluded that while the dog was a pit bull terrier type and his behaviour was "boisterous", there was no evidence that he posed a threat.

In court yesterday, a lawyer for Belfast City Council applied to have Hank spared from destruction. Judge Nixon was told that the pet has already been microchipped and neutered and would be insured.

Supporters in the public gallery applauded as the judge agreed to make the order to allow Hank to be returned home.

After the hearing, Ms Meadows said: "It was just such a relief to know that it actually was happening today.

"Until the judge said the words, we were just afraid in case something changed.

"It means so much - I just can't get over being able to see him again."

Hank's owners claim he is actually a staffie-labrador cross, however, as part of the court process they have had to accept the council's ruling that he is a pit bull.

They are considering a legal challenge in order to overturn the council's findings.

"We have to (accept Hank is a pit bull) - this is the legislation, and this is where the legislation fails," Mr Collins said.

"It's such an abstract concept of what a pit bull terrier actually is. For us to have him back, we have to go in and legally accept the council's findings, regardless of our own personal opinion about it.

"This is something that we hope to challenge.

"We are less than happy with the legislation. As far as we know the council is less than happy with it, politicians aren't happy with it, the public isn't happy with it - something has to change."

Although they are overjoyed to have Hank home and safe again, the couple have vowed to continue their campaign to reform Northern Ireland's dog laws.

They want an end to the controversial breed-specific legislation which exists here and which led to Hank being seized.

A rally is planned to take place at Stormont on Sunday afternoon, August 14.

"We can't in all good conscience accept the help that we've been given and now decide that the fight is finished because we have Hank home," Mr Collins explained.

The couple also thanked members of the public for everything that they did in helping to ensure that the beloved pet was returned to his owners.

Mr Collins said: "We do not think Hank would be coming home, especially this soon, without the support.

"Belfast City Council, when the pressure was put on, they expedited the process."

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