Hank's owners wise to take a step away
When Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows took to social media last month it was for one simple aim - to save their pooch Hank from being put down as a dangerous dog. It was the action of two pet lovers who felt that public support was the best weapon in their armoury.
While it would be improper to suggest that their public campaign - which gained attention around the world - made Belfast City Council or its chosen dog expert change their opinion of Hank, what it most certainly did do was to make people more aware of the flaws in the dangerous dog legislation here.
The couple conducted themselves impeccably during their campaign and praised the council's wardens for their treatment of the animal while he was in captivity. It would have been easy to exploit the anger of dog lovers at the legislation, but they carefully avoided that trap.
But now they have found the price of fame - both for themselves and the dog - is wearing. They've seen the problems of becoming public figures, that suddenly their ordinary lives are no longer private and that any little incident can be blown out of perspective.
Facebook, as they quickly realised, is a powerful medium for making a cause known very quickly, but it should come with a health warning. Not everyone who joins in a debate will hold the same opinion as those originating any campaign, and it can be difficult to cope with every differing viewpoint.
Leonard and Joanne did not set out to be the leaders of a campaign to amend the breed specific legislation (BSL)in Northern Ireland, so that a dog's behaviour rather than its breed should be the major determinant when it comes to being judged as dangerous or not. Even organising a rally against BSL has proved a major obstacle for the couple, and their plans have had to be put on hold twice.
They are right to take a step back now and to try to retrieve the relative anonymity they enjoyed before Hank was seized by council wardens and police from Leonard's east Belfast home. Perhaps the contribution made by Leonard and Joanne in highlighting the flaws of BSL will give greater impetus to those already campaigning for changes to the law. Similarly, the money donated to the couple in anticipation of legal action to save Hank will be given to good causes. They can still be a force for positive change, even if out of the limelight.