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Hank saved: Flawed law means this problem isn't going away soon

By Fionola Meredith

Published 29/07/2016

Hank the dog
Hank the dog
Owners Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows yesterday
Owner Leonard Collins with pet Hank
Joanne Meadows with pet Hank

Crack out the dog biscuits, Hank is coming home! The young dog's owners, Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows, will be able to bring their beloved pet back where he belongs as early as this Tuesday.

The days of anxiety, the disrupted eating and sleeping, the middle-of-the-night fears for what the future might hold: they're all over. Hank will be able to climb up on his favourite spot - the middle of Leonard's bed - and sleep it off, like a bad dream.

Hank's imminent return will bring to an end an extraordinary two weeks during which he was seized from his home in a raid by dog wardens and police, then kept apart from his family, on suspicion of being an illegal breed. There were no allegations that Hank had done anything wrong: no bites, no fights, no aggression. The worst he was accused of was being a bit boisterous, as many dogs of his age can be. Hank's only 'crime' was the misfortune of looking a bit like a pit bull.

Now the council have determined that Hank is indeed "a pit bull terrier type", but it's been recommended that he be placed on the council's exemption register. That will likely mean he has to be leashed and muzzled when he goes out, like Ruby, the Hank look-a-like from Donaghadee, who recently got a similar reprieve. But still: he's going to live, and that's something to celebrate.

It could so easily have gone the other way, with Leonard and Joanne having to face the possibility that Hank could be destroyed. It had happened before, and will certainly happen again: healthy, innocent dogs being put down because of flawed, illogical legislation.

Yet news of Hank's plight spread fast around the world, and soon thousands of people were signing petitions and donating cash to a legal fighting fund to save the dog's life. Hank was no longer an obscure Belfast dog, he was a global cause, a symbol of injustice, with his sweet, dopey face on the front page of the Washington Post.

Social media can be full of vexatious, tedious and unpleasant nonsense, but on this occasion it proved an invaluable platform for building support for Hank and his owners. People all over the world were quick to grasp the essential unfairness of seizing a dog, and possibly destroying him, just because of the way he looks.

And it was clear that Leonard and Joanne were loving guardians of their pet: Hank is insured, licensed, micro-chipped, and he receives a special diet and medication for his skin condition. He's your classic pampered pooch, who receives lots of affection every day. This was clearly not a situation of some swaggering fool of an owner using an angry, traumatised animal to boost his status as a local hard man.

Speaking of which, could we see some of these irresponsible people targeted for raising truly vicious, volatile and aggressive dogs -regardless of breed? I'm talking about the kind the rest of us avoid when we're walking our pets in the park. On one occasion, my dog was badly bitten by an out-of-control Rottweiler. It cost me £100 to get him patched up, and it left him in considerable pain and me feeling angry and terrified. It wasn't the breed that was the problem here - I've met plenty of docile, roly-poly Rotts - it was the crazy owner.

How about taking action against these kind of anti-social people, rather than the quiet, caring, law-abiding types?

And that's the problem which isn't going away. It's wonderful that Hank is coming home. But until current legislation is overhauled, so that the primary focus is on bad owners, not outlawed breeds, there will be many more injustices.

Hank the dog with owner Joanne Meadows
Hank the dog with owner Joanne Meadows
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)
Hank with his owner Joanne Meadows
Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows at home after their dog Hank was seized by Belfast City Council
Hank as a pup

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