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Hank's return shows law needs changing

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 29/07/2016

Hank is set to be returned to his owners (handout/PA Wire)
Hank is set to be returned to his owners (handout/PA Wire)

This newspaper, along with thousands of dog lovers around the world, welcomes the decision by Belfast City Council to return Hank the dog to its owners.

An expert has assessed Hank to be a banned breed - a pit bull terrier type - but that he does not pose any risk to the public.

While the dog's owners dispute the definition of Hank, what is not in doubt is that they have been textbook owners. The dog was microchipped, well looked after and given regular veterinary examinations and treatment for a skin condition.

It was equally obvious that Hank was not some sort of trophy dog, bought by his owners to create a certain air of menace, but rather a first pet which was adored as a playful companion.

Belfast City Council has been at pains to point out that under the legislation it must act if it receives a complaint about a suspected illegal breed.

Many people will think that the seizure of Hank, which was carried out while his owners were absent from the house and involved several police officers and four council wardens, was an over-the-top response, especially now that the dog has been deemed to be harmless. Nevertheless, the council has attempted to outline its responsibilities and the procedures which have to be followed once a complaint has been made.

This willingness to engage as far as possible in the social media debate over the fate of Hank deserves to be acknowledged positively.

Now that this case has been settled - a few legal loose ends have yet to be tied up - there should be a review of the dangerous dogs legislation in the province.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt has described the law as flawed and statistics seem to bear out his criticism.

Between 2011 and 2015, local authorities in the province seized 243 dogs, but only four ended up being put to sleep.

This would indicate that the legislation is weighted towards those who complain about a dog's appearance rather than its behaviour, and would appear to back up Mr Nesbitt's assertion that the law is no longer fit for purpose and requires an overhaul.

This is a welcome and timely contribution to the debate and the Assembly should re-examine the law as a matter of urgency, so that local authorities are not compelled to enforce a law which only results in alienating them from responsible dog owners.

Belfast Telegraph

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