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RSPCA adds its opposition to law that put Hank behind bars

By Angela Rainey

Published 10/08/2016

Hank relaxing at home
Hank relaxing at home
Hank's owners Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows

Animal charity the RSPCA has called for a revision of the Dangerous Dogs Act because it claims family pets are being put down unnecessarily.

It says that the Act is so out of date that it has led to more people being attacked, as it focuses on banning and destroying particular breeds rather than enforcing stiffer punishments for irresponsible owners.

The Dangerous Dogs Act is 25 years old this week and currently bans four breeds: Japanese Tosa, Fila Brasileiro, Dogo Argentino and pit bull terrier.

Dogs such as crossbreeds which have pit bull-type features are also banned.

The legislation was highlighted with the international appeal last month to save Hank the dog after he was removed from his east Belfast home while owners Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows were out.

The seizure by Belfast City Council and the PSNI sparked an online campaign called #Save Hank and a 20 day battle to prevent him being destroyed.

Despite being sold as a Staffie-Labrador cross, an expert found that Hank came from a pit bull lineage.

But as his temperament was non-threatening he was allowed home, provided he wears a muzzle in public.

Canine welfare expert for the RSPCA Dr Samantha Gaines said more needs to be done to target owners who are irresponsible, rather than destroying the dog as breed-specific legislation was not preventing attacks. She said: "The police, the RSPCA and other animal rescue organisations have to deal with the consequences of this flawed law by euthanising hundreds of dogs because legislation is forcing us to, due to the way they look, despite being suitable for rehoming. Not only is this a huge ethical and welfare issue, it also places significant emotional strain on staff.

"The RSPCA believes it is paramount for the Government to launch an inquiry into the effectiveness of breed-specific legislation, assess other options to improve human safety and dog welfare, and ultimately to repeal the breed-specific part of the legislation." Research carried out by the RSPCA - Breed Specific Legislation: A Dog's Dinner - reports that since 1991, 30 people have been killed by dangerous dogs, 21 of them by breeds not banned under the Act.

It also concludes that the Act has had "unintended negative consequences for dog welfare", and said that over the past two years the charity had been forced to put down 336 dogs, while Battersea Dogs Home, which is also critical of the law, had put down 91 in the last 12 months.

Dog behaviour expert Victoria Stilwell threw her weight behind the campaign to have Hank returned to his owners.

She was also highly critical of breed-specific legislation.

She said: "BSL tears apart families, while punishing innocent dogs and their guardians solely because of a dog's appearance."

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