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We must do what is right for all three of us: Save Hank owners close Facebook page after 'beyond stressful week'

Man seeking payment over alleged attack the final straw for east Belfast couple

By Claire Williamson

Published 15/08/2016

Hank back with his owners Joanne Meadows and Leonard Collins
Hank back with his owners Joanne Meadows and Leonard Collins
Hank with a thank you message for his supporters
Hank being reunited with his owners Joanne Meadows and Leonard Collins last week
Hank's owners Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows
The now world-famous hound Hank enjoys a munch on his homecoming cake
The couple enjoy a happy reunion with their beloved pet dog Hank
Leonard Collins with his dog Hank
The couple enjoy a happy reunion with their beloved pet dog Hank
The couple enjoy a happy reunion with their beloved pet dog Hank
Hank relaxing at home

The owners of a dog saved by a massive public campaign have thanked their supporters as they plan to take a step back from the spotlight by shutting down their social media page due to "stress".

A global campaign was sparked when Hank was taken from his east Belfast home by Belfast City Council dog wardens on suspicion of being a pit bull-type breed.

The case reopened the debate on Northern Ireland's breed-specific legislation, which has been condemned as "flawed and archaic". There was controversy in 2012 when another family pet, Lennox, was put down by Belfast City Council after being deemed a banned breed and dangerous.

Hank's story made headlines around the world and featured in the US newspaper the Washington Post and French publication Le Monde.

Among those to pledge their support were X Factor host Dermot O'Leary, boxer Carl Frampton and celebrity dog trainer Victoria Stilwell.

An assessment concluded that although Hank was "a pit bull terrier-type" breed, the pet could be placed on the council's exemption register, thus saving it from death.

As part of his release conditions, Hank is kept on a lead and muzzled in public.

Since being freed Hank and his owners Joanne Meadows and Leonard Collins have remained in the public eye and have been at the centre of a campaign to change the dangerous dogs law that led to Hank being seized.

In the initial week since he was released they described their "pain, frustration and hurt" and explained how Hank was struggling to adjust to the conditions of his release.

A rally organised for Stormont in protest against Northern Ireland's controversial Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) dog laws has been postponed a number of times, with a new date yet to be set.

However, what appears to have been the final straw for the owners is a threat by a man who claims he was attacked by Hank.

Posting on their page the owners addressed the man directly who is "telling people that Hank 'attacked him yesterday'".

They said: "You put your face directly in front of Hank and put your hand on his muzzle.

"Hank is not reacting well to his muzzle nor the entire ordeal and honestly neither are we.

"Can we ask that people allow Hank to settle back in and respect that he is a dog, not a toy. The vast majority of people have been respectful, please do not take this is as a slight against anyone.

"Incidences like this will force the council to seize Hank and put him down.

"If anyone has any issue with Hank, the funding or anything else, as I have said repeatedly, please come and speak to me."

In a post minutes later the owners then claimed the man was threatening to put details of the "attack" on Facebook "for money".

It read: "I have received word that this gentleman wants money, for a chipped tooth apparently or he will put details of this "attack" on Facebook.

"If Hank causes someone distress, or indeed an injury, I would do everything in my power to fix the issue. Spreading rumours and making threats to extort money is not something that will work."

In a final post they said they were closing the page due to the "recent developments".

It said: "We owe each and every one of you a great debt but the last week and a half has been beyond stressful. We must do what is right for all three of us.

"Joanne and I were never spokesmen for the Anti BSL movement, we just played a very small part; many, many people have worked tirelessly for years to draw attention to BSL and they generally go unappreciated. Please now give them your support, seek out a local Anti BSL group and join their ranks.

"None of Hank's donations will goto us, it will all be used for good causes. Please look up my personal FB account (Leonard Collins) for details of this over the next couple of weeks. Thank you all. Leonard, Joanne & Hank."

Following their announcement the page was flooded with comments of well-wishes and support.

One read: "In the light of recent events I completely understand you. I wish your lovely family all the best and I thank you for letting us come along this journey this far. Take care of each other."

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