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Petition to save Belfast death row dog Hank tops 100,000 signatures

Campaign to help family pet seized by council gains support from around world

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 22/07/2016

Owners of Hank the dog say he is a Staffie/Labrador cross but dog wardens maintain they think he might be a pit bull which is a banned breed
Owners of Hank the dog say he is a Staffie/Labrador cross but dog wardens maintain they think he might be a pit bull which is a banned breed
Hank the dog with owner Joanne Meadows
Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows at home after their dog Hank was seized by Belfast City Council
Some of the pictures of Hank his owner has shared online

A petition to save a dog seized by Belfast City Council because it looks like a pit bull has passed 100,000 signatures in just five days.

People around the world have joined the campaign to help Hank. The dog was removed from his east Belfast home last week by a team of police officers and council officials.

An online petition started by his devastated owners Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows has triggered a wave of support.

The number of backers reached the six-figure mark yesterday, and last night the total was approaching 110,000.

One of those to have signed it is ex-Big Brother star Rebeckah Vaughan, who told her 250,000 followers: "Please help #savehank."

Nicole Williams, a model who stars in the reality TV series WAGs, also lent her support.

She tweeted: "Belfast: Save Hank," adding: "Please can all my followers sign this to help get Hank back!!"

Boxer Carl Frampton, in the United States ahead of next weekend's mega-fight with Leo Santa Cruz, has also signed the petition.

A crowd-funding page set up to help pay legal costs had raised £13,765 yesterday.

And a Save Hank Facebook page has almost 50,000 "likes".

Hank as a pup
Hank as a pup
Hank the dog with owner Joanne Meadows
Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows with Hank the dog
Joanne and Leonard Collins with rope Hank liked to chew on

The row, which has echoes of the 2012 Lennox case, began last Thursday when Mr Collins returned home to find Hank gone.

A warrant pinned to his front door said he had been taken into the care of Belfast City Council under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

Hank was seized on suspicion of being a pit bull terrier - a breed which is banned in Northern Ireland. Mr Collins said he believes the animal, who is neutered, insured and micro-chipped, is a Staffie-Labrador cross.

The controversy made national TV yesterday when Leonard and Joanne appeared on ITV's This Morning.

Vet Roger Mugford told This Morning's Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford that he believes it is unlikely that Hank is a pit bull-type dog. "We believe from studies done with DNA, studies in the United States, that barely a quarter of all the dogs that are seized or said to be pit bull-types have any relatedness to a pit bull," he said. While accepting that councils must try to uphold existing laws, he believes the legislation itself is flawed and that decisions should be guided by temperament and behaviour rather than looks. He described the current law as having "no basis in science".

The council and PSNI have been criticised for their heavy-handed approach when seizing Hank.

Police yesterday refused to comment on one claim that officers arrived with riot gear and body shields.

Chief Inspector Robert Murdie said: "PSNI officers provided assistance for council staff to execute a warrant for the seizure of an animal under The Dogs (NI) Order 1983 as amended."

Belfast City Council said: "Two wardens initially attended - council dog wardens work in pairs. However, upon assessment, the wardens requested additional support."

Asked was it usual procedure to arrive without warning a pet owner, a spokesperson said: "The council attended the property on two previous occasions, but there was no one available."

The council said no other dogs had been removed from their homes in the last year.

Belfast City Council said: "The council has a statutory duty in relation to the enforcement of the Dogs (NI) Order 1983 as amended.

"The dog known as Hank has been taken in for assessment, and it would be inappropriate to comment further.

"We would like to assure those who have expressed concern about the dog's welfare that he is being well looked after and his needs are being met."

Belfast Telegraph

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