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Hank Facebook page to close: Power of social media was life-saver for seized dog... but now campaigning pair are feeling hounded

By Fionola Meredith

Published 16/08/2016

Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows celebrating the return of Hank earlier this month
Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows celebrating the return of Hank earlier this month

Massive global publicity was what helped to save Hank from possible execution after he was seized by Belfast City Council on suspicion of looking like a dangerous dog.

Despite being deemed to be a 'pit bull terrier type' breed by the authorities, Hank was finally returned to his owners, Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows, under certain strict conditions.

A not-so-shaggy dog story with a happy ending, you might think. But Leonard and Joanne, as well as Hank himself, are discovering that the new reality of day-to-day life is far from a fairytale. Hank is having difficulty adjusting to the prescribed regime, which stipulates that he must be muzzled and leashed in public. And now the couple have taken down the 'Save Hank' Facebook page because the personal stress levels generated by the case are simply too high.

It seems that the same phenomenon which brought Hank's plight to the world - social media, with its capacity to quickly raise worldwide support - is now making daily life difficult for the pair and their dog. "Hank is not reacting well to his muzzle nor the entire ordeal and honestly neither are we," they say.

The problem is that the high visibility of the case has made Hank something of a celebrity, public property almost, and he's instantly recognisable. But what Hank and his owners need right now is the opposite of publicity. Peace and quiet, and time for Hank to get used to wearing a muzzle in public - which can make any dog anxious and defensive - is urgently required.

The final straw for Collins and Meadows came after a member of the public encountered Hank on the street then claimed he had been injured. In a direct message "to the gentleman who is telling people that Hank 'attacked him yesterday'", Leonard and Joanne state that "you put your face directly in front of Hank and put your hand on his muzzle … Can we ask that people allow Hank to settle back in and respect that he is a dog, not a toy."

Later they said that they had received word that the man wanted money and had threatened to put details of the so-called "attack" online. "Spreading rumours and making threats to extort money is not something that will work," the couple said. As they are painfully aware, allegations such as this could have serious implications for Hank, since he is already deemed - quite unfairly, in many eyes - to be a dangerous breed of dog.

While most people have been supportive and respectful, there have been some jibes against Hank's owners. One supporter claimed that the decision to close the Save Hank page was "a slap in the face to those who have followed this story and tried to help in any way they can", while another said that the couple now had their dog back plus "a shedload of cash".

Collins and Meadows have repeatedly emphasised that they will be keeping none of the money raised to fight for Hank's freedom, and will instead donate it to good causes.

Hostile, negative reactions like this illustrate the problem with harnessing support on social media. Inevitably, some people will feel that they have ownership of the story, as well as the people - and dog - involved in it. In their heads, they think it belongs to them, as though it's a soap opera, or an episode of reality television.

Then, when Collins and Meadows quite naturally and rationally want to step back from the spotlight, these people resent it. They want to know - indeed they feel entitled to know - what happens next.

As Hank's owners are discovering, publicity comes at a price. But they don't owe the world anything, and they are perfectly entitled to do whatever is best for themselves and their much-loved dog.

Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home.
(Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hank the dog visited the Belfast Telegraph offices on Friday to say thanks to helping in the successful campaign to bring him home. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
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.

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