Hank saved: Full court report as Belfast death row dog set to be returned to owners
A Pitbull Terrier-type dog whose seizure sparked a major public campaign is being reunited with its owners after a judge confirmed he will not face destruction.
Two-year-old Hank will return to his east Belfast home following an order for his exemption from a banned breed's list.
Amid jubilant scenes at the city's Magistrates' Court, one of the dog's owners expressed relief that their 19-day ordeal was at an end.
Leonard Collins said: "Hank will probably wreck the house, he will be that excited."
Mr Collins and Joanne Meadows have agreed to a series of conditions in order to get their pet back.
They must keep him on a lead and muzzle at all times, and comply with whatever training is recommended by an animal behaviourist following assessment.
Hank was seized from his home on July 14 by police officers and dog wardens.
The move, following a complaint from a member of the public, was carried out without the dogs owners being present.
Examinations carried out by a breed expert confirmed Hank to be a Pitbull Terrier-type, a judge was told.
The seizure provoked massive public support for the dog and his owners, raising nearly £19,000 to help pay for an anticipated legal
In court today a lawyer for Belfast City Council applied to have Hank spared from the requirement for destruction.
She said the behaviourist had assessed him as being "boisterous", but suitable for the exemption register under the Dangerous Dogs Order.
Hank has already been micro-chipped and neutered, and must also now be insured. Mr Leonard's solicitor, Mark O'Connor, told the court his client wanted to thank the public, politicians and media who had backed their campaign.
Following confirmation of the council's stance, District Judge Ken Nixon agreed to make the order which will lead to Hank being returned home.
Supporters in the public gallery cheered and applauded at the move signaling the dog's release.
Outside court Mr Collins said: "I'm just so relieved, it's been a hard few weeks full of stress."
He insisted that, in his view, Hank should not have been seized. "We still don't believe he's a Pitbull, but in order for us to get him
home we have to accept the Council's exemption order."
Mr Collins also vowed to continue with a challenge to the legislation that led to his pet being seized.