Belfast Telegraph

Fallout from Hank saga could lead to change in dangerous dog legislation

By Rebecca Black

The case of Hank the dog - who was seized by Belfast City Council over fears he was a pit bull and could be a danger to the public - may result in a change to the law.

The council has been in correspondence with Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen asking for an urgent review of breed specific legislation (BSL).

It can now be revealed that Ms McIlveen has indicated she will consider changing the law after lessons were learned by the council on how it handled the whole issue last year.

The council wrote to the minister asking her to conduct an urgent review of the legislation.

It noted in the letter that tragic events in England demonstrated the need for effective controls in respect of dangerous dogs, but that the removal of animals which had not posed a danger to the public from their owners should be avoided.

It added: "The council supports and encourages responsible dog ownership and those who exercise appropriate care and control of their dogs."

Hank was seized from joint owners Joanne Meadows and Leonard Collins last year and a high profile campaign was mounted to secure his release. It attracted support from across the world, including from TV presenter Dermot O'Leary, boxer Carl Frampton and celebrity dog trainer Victoria Stillwell.

An online petition to have Hank returned was signed by more than 280,000 people.

The case and its handling is currently being reviewed by the council.

Ms McIlveen's private secretary wrote back to the council. The letter has been published on its website.

In it she intimated the minister may be open to reviewing the legislation.

"The department understands that the council is currently reviewing its handling of a recent high profile case involving the seizure, assessment and return of a pit bull," she wrote.

"We would be interested in learning of the findings of that review, and will then consider whether the existing legislative provisions could be reviewed to allow the impact of seizure on dogs and their owners, to be more effectively managed, while ensuring appropriate protection for the public."

Two-year-old Hank was removed by dog wardens last July and taken for testing following concerns from members of the public. Under Article 25(a) of the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983 some types of dog, including pit bulls, are deemed inherently dangerous and can be destroyed.

A court in Belfast heard he had been assessed by an expert to be a pit bull terrier-type.

However, it was recommended that he be placed on the council's exemption register.

Hank was released on the condition he underwent behavioural training and was kept on a lead and muzzled in public. He was the 12th dog to be placed on the exemption register since 2011.

Mr Collins welcomed the latest move. "I very much back the call for legislation review; very few pieces of legislation are as unpopular as BSL," he said.

"This stems from both the implementation of the legislation by the council and the abstract and grossly unfair nature of the legislation itself.

"As it stands, we will see a repeat of Hank's case, something nobody wants. It is ludicrous that another family should be put through this when the desire for change is so overwhelming."

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