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Furious Victoria Stilwell flying to Belfast to help family pet Hank seized by city council

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 20/07/2016

Hank the dog
Hank the dog
TV dog trainer Victoria Stilwell
Owners Leonard and Joanne

A celebrity dog trainer has joined the fight to save a family pet seized from its home because it looks like a pit bull.

Victoria Stilwell said she was ready to fly into Belfast to help gentle giant Hank.

The dog was taken by police and officers from Belfast City Council animal control on suspicion of being a pit bull terrier - a banned breed.

The case has echoes of the 2010 Lennox saga, which saw a dog seized and put down after a huge legal battle.

Victoria, who is one of the world's most recognised and respected dog trainers, became involved with Lennox and has said she is ready to come over to Northern Ireland to save Hank from being destroyed.

She told the Belfast Telegraph: "I am so angry that this is happening again.

"Here we are, we're going to have another dog languishing inside the kennels and going through trauma because it is not with its family.

"I will come over there (to Northern Ireland) and do a behavioural evaluation on this dog.

"The world's top forensic dog bite investigator, Jim Crosby, who is a friend of mine and who helped in the Lennox case, is also ready to come to Belfast and do a behavioural evaluation. We're ready to come - we'll do it."

Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows, who have had Hank since he was a puppy, have launched a campaign to save their pet, who faces death if officials rule he is a pit bull. The pair believe he is a Staffie-Labrador cross.

Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows with Hank the dog
Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows with Hank the dog

Victoria, who starred in Animal Planet's hit TV series It's Me or the Dog, said she feared for Hank's life.

"I became involved with Lennox, and I saw how completely unfair it was right from the beginning," she explained.

"I truly believe that, at the moment Lennox was taken out of his home in 2010, he was a dead dog.

"There was nothing that any expert could say, and nothing that any of us could do, to change the minds of Belfast City Council.

"Lennox just did not stand a chance, and that is what really worries me right now about Hank."

Belfast City Council confirmed the dog was taken into its care, saying it had a "statutory duty" to enforce the Dogs (NI) Order 1983.

Hank getting a kiss from Joanne
Hank getting a kiss from Joanne

It added that Hank was being assessed, that he was being well looked after and his needs were being met.

However, Victoria said separating the pet from his owners would cause him a severe amount of distress.

"If his real needs are being met, dogs need to be part of a family," the animal expert told the Belfast Telegraph.

"They are sociable animals. They don't do well in social isolation - they don't transition well from home to kennel, and kennel to home.

"That dog will be going through absolute emotional turmoil and trauma - I can guarantee you that 100%."

Victoria said studies have shown how the cognitive abilities of a dog are similar to a two-year-old child.

Joanne Meadows with Hank
Joanne Meadows with Hank

She likened what Hank was going through to a child being separated from its parents.

The Lennox case made headlines around the world, including Australia and America.

And Victoria added: "The world will be watching Belfast.

"My social media reaches about two million people every week.

"People are very passionate about it."

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