Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Hank the dog lookalike spared as court rules pit bull is safe

Donaghadee woman is allowed to keep 'perfect' pit bull with strict conditions

Ruby and Ashton

By Ali Gordon

A Hank the dog lookalike from Co Down has been spared the death sentence despite being categorised as a pit bull — one day after the Belfast dog was seized.

Ashton Gillespie, 18, faced a court battle to keep her 11-month old pitbull Ruby after she was officially listed as belonging to the banned breed.

But a judge at Newtownards Magistrates’ Court ruled on July 15 that the young Donaghadee woman could keep her beloved pet after the prosecution said the animal had passed a good temperament test.

Ruby has been spared destruction with a series of strict conditions including that she must be muzzled and kept securely on a lead at all times in public.

Relieved owner Ashton was also ordered by the judge to have a third party insurance policy to cover for the death or bodily injury caused to any person by the powerful pitbull.

 East Belfast dog Hank was taken from his home by council officials for “looking like a pit bull” and has not been returned.

But Ruby spent just 90 minutes away from his teenage owner before being returned to her.

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“It doesn’t matter if a dog is a pit bull or not,” Ashton told Sunday Life.

“Any dog can have an a bad temper with a bad owner, but if you’re a dog owner and you train your dog the right way then they should have a good temper, which Ruby does.”

Four types of dogs are currently banned by law in Northern Ireland; the pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Braziliero.

But the Government website explains that just because a dog belongs to a banned breed it does not have to be destroyed.

The court has the discretion to spare a dog if it believes it would not be a danger to the public if kept under certain strict conditions.

The court may make a ‘contingent destruction order’ exempting it from the ban as long as the exemption conditions are met.

Ards and North Down council recommended that Ruby be spared after a series of tests determined her good nature.

“Ruby is an absolute credit,” said Ashton.

“I’ve never in my life met a better dog and the council even said how beautiful and calm Ruby was, and they knew that she was a pit bull.

“The council told me that there are times they go to people’s houses and they can’t get through the door because the dogs are so bad, but not Ruby.”


The Co Down teen lives in a flat in the seaside town with Ruby after getting her as a five-week old pup from a woman in Londonderry.

Ashton said: “The dog warden came round and I invited her in and Ruby came wandering in to see what was going on.

“The girl said that she was a lovely wee dog and then asked me what breed it was and I told her it was a staffy (Staffordshire bull terrier) because that’s what I got Ruby as.

“She said how nice Ruby was but that she thought she was a pit bull. They never seized her because she was so tiny but over a number of months, the girl called out to see Ruby and have a bit of a chat with me and talk me through the new legislation.

“She told me that they don’t take pit bulls and put them down, that’s not what happens, they give you an exemption order and you have two months to get the dog fully licensed, insured, muzzled at all times, microchipped and spayed, which I had already done.”

Ruby was taken for tests on July 11 before Ashton appeared in court the following Friday.

Prosecution claimed that the dog was a pit bull but the council was satisfied with the test results and asked for the dog to be taken off death row.

Judge Hamill took the prosecution’s advice but warned that if Ruby attacked someone Ashton will be “civilly liable”.

She said: “Ruby was seized on the 11th but she was returned within an hour and a half. I have all the paperwork from that day, including her measurements, her breed as a pit bull and the results of her temperament tests, which were amazing.”

The court ordered that Ruby must be licensed, kept in an enclosed area and muzzled and on a lead when in a public place. Ashton must also cooperate with the exemption order and allow the dog to be inspected at any time by the council.

“It’s a shame that she doesn’t have the freedom she used to, but they are the rules that we have to go along with.

“If I was Hank’s owner, I would be fighting for him with everything I could and I wouldn’t be giving up.

“If I didn’t have Ruby, I don’t know what I’d do. She’s my best friend.”

In court District Judge Hamill issued a stern warning to people who keep “dangerous dogs”.

“I do not know this dog, so I will be guided by the prosecution authority on this. But people who have dangerous dogs better be well insured. If this attacks someone they will be civilly liable.”

Observing Ms Gillespie, he added: “And you can smirk all you like, you may remember these words.”

Afterwards, Ashton Gillespie told Sunday Life that she was nervous in the courtroom which was why she may have appeared to smirk.

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