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Save Hank campaign: Belfast City Council website swamped with messages

By Angela Rainey

Published 23/07/2016

Leonard Collins with his dog Hank, who was seized by authorities amid claims that he looks like a pit bull (Leonard Collins/Joanne Meadows/PA)
Leonard Collins with his dog Hank, who was seized by authorities amid claims that he looks like a pit bull (Leonard Collins/Joanne Meadows/PA)
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 was taken from his home by dog wardens
Hank the dog with owner Joanne Meadows
Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows with a picture of Hank ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Some of the pictures of Hankhis owner has shared online

Thousands of angry dog lovers who bombarded Belfast City Council's staff and social media pages have forced the authority to set up an automatic filter response to the word 'Hank'.

In the past week, thousands of posts have been directed to the council's social media pages by objectors venting their anger at its decision to remove the pet from his owners, pending investigation as to whether the animal can be classed as a dangerous dog.

On Thursday alone, more than 2,000 people targeted Belfast City Council's Facebook page, and its staff through emails, with the message #saveHank, forcing it to install a spam filter.

In a contingency plan to stop the authority's systems from crashing and to allow business to continue as normal, any correspondence with the word 'Hank' now automatically receives a 344-word response outlining the council's stance on the matter.

Family pet Hank was confiscated under the Dogs (NI) Order 1983 amid a heavy presence of eight police officers and four dog wardens last Friday following a complaint that he looked like a pit bull.

His owners, Leonard Collins (33), a pure science student, and Joanne Matthews (33), bought Hank about two years ago after being told by a friend that some pups were for sale. They claim that he was sold as a Staffie-Labrador cross.

"I think we paid something like £200 to £250 for him," said Mr Collins. "When we went to view the pups, he had a funny waddle, a strange sort of sideways bounce, that marked him out as different from the rest."

Since the confiscation of the pet, there has been an enormous outcry from dog lovers across the country, some urging that the matter be sent to the Assembly and others asking for "mercy for Hank".

There have also been accusations by Dog Lovers NI that the council attempted to "censor" the public's response by deleting the comments from its social media pages.

A spokesperson for Belfast City Council denied it deleted any comments. "The council has experienced a large volume of comments and messages online in relation to Hank the dog," the spokesperson said.

"While we acknowledge the concern expressed in relation to this case, we want to continue providing a service to ratepayers via Facebook and Twitter pages, which have become a key means of updating people about and responding to queries in relation to our services and facilities.

"We have not deleted any comments in relation to this case, but have applied standard filters designed to remove repetitive and spam-like comments, in order to continue to provide our usual service."

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