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Trial By Tape Measure - The Story Of Lennox

Trial By Tape Measure - The Story Of Lennox

Submitted by Jennifer White on July 2, 2010 - 10:59 am

Breed Specific Legislation trundles on and on, seemingly gobbling up more and more innocent canine victims with endless vigour, ferocity and ease. We wonder at a law that came into effect with ridiculously sloppy haste and we wonder where it will all end. We also wonder how many more families will be left devastated, confused and inconsolable because of the loss of their precious and much loved innocent pet dog.

When legislation is designed to eradicate a certain species, in this instance, a certain type of dog, you'd imagine then, that the law must be so super-protective and of such great benefit to mankind that we simply couldn't do without it, wouldn't you? You'd expect a law that has the almost God-like power to rob innocent beings of their lives, to be entirely righteous and justified for its absolute necessity, wouldn't you? Because the fact that a law like this exists at all should surely mean it is supremely validated and irrefutably indispensable in keeping the majority of the public safe. Welcome to BSL, it doesn't work like that.

Though the banning of four types of dog is part of the British legal system, known as section one of the Dangerous Dogs Act, you will find if you read the sad stories of those who have been affected by the breed ban, that victims of this law are in fact those who do not own dangerous dogs, and the obvious point of contention that people from all walks of life become distressed and annoyed by, is the fact that Breed Specific Legislation is based on a wholly unfair specification that outlaws the appearance of the dog rather than the behaviour of the dog or its owner, hence identification of dogs deemed to be 'of type' is flawed, haphazard and mistakes and miscarriages of justice cannot be rectified once the death penalty is carried out. If we were talking about a parking fine I would not be writing this. Innocent lives are ended, unbelievably, by the measuring of big heads and bulky bodies, curly tails and smiling jaws. Breed specific identification is a farce because it concentrates on the physical features of canines that are essentially of crossbred descent, discounting character, temperament and the environment in which the dog has been reared. Environment is of course intrinsically linked with canine behaviour but breed specific law has no use for common sense or the value of responsible ownership, nor does it value the obvious potential of education as a means to make our streets safer. BSL goes on is merry way barking up the wrong tree and killing healthy, well behaved dogs at every opportunity.

So, this broadly sweeping act of parliament that delivers the death penalty to dogs that fit its ambiguous and dubious criteria, should, in 19 years of operation, have ended dog attacks, should it not? Well, err, no, it seems dog attacks are (according to government spiel) on the increase, yet the monolithic monster that is the BSL experience, remains ominously set in stone on the Statute Book and continues to cost the taxpayer millions. Messrs Cameron and Co should look no further than the Dangerous Dogs Act in their quest to cut public spending!

BSL by nature of its design is built to keep the public unanimously in an unfounded state of fear and the good old gutter press helps enormously with this task, news teams bash out sensational headlines of dog attack accidents including their 'standard' photographic response, which is the picture of a fighting dog unrelated to the story.

So, BSL teaches nothing, fixes nothing and blames and condemns dogs for the irresponsible behaviour of human beings. Trial by tape measure continues and apart from the occasional comment from one or two clued up politicians, MP's generally cannot be bothered to question the inherent flaws that keep this crazy piece of legislation busily doing its worst.

Members of the public may find their MP approachable on most subjects of interest to the taxpayer -- but the DDA seems to render members of parliament speechless. It is easy to ignore the great big mess of BSL because its victims are locked out of sight and cannot defend themselves. Assumption of pit bull type is not good enough reason to remove a dog from its home and prosecute its owner. Clearly the prohibitive 'catch all' agenda renders 'dangerous' dog legislation farcical because it is entrenched and based upon the ridiculous premise of guilt by association. This is why repeal is the only way forward. We cannot continue to stand idly by whilst countless innocent canines are imprisoned and/or destroyed because of what they may, or more importantly, may not look like.

Being a responsible dog owner (of a bull breed dog) quite literally becomes of no consequence and of no benefit to your dog if it is seized. It matters not that your dog has never bitten anyone when the reason for the dog's seizure and your possible prosecution (yes this is criminal law) is based upon the fact that you have what 'looks' like an illegal breed. So, you may live in fear of your beloved dog or dogs being seized but the law doesn't care how responsible or irresponsible you are, the law wants you to put your loveable bullies to sleep or they will come looking for them. Caring owners who train and socialise their dogs are not and never will be, out of the range of the all seeing eye of BSL henchmen. Those who want to see this law enforced and who often push enforcement to the nth degree, can be counted amongst the population in a range of capacities, they can be ordinary people who do not like dogs, the cheery postman, the dog warden, the county councillor and otherwise friendly neighbours. But beware the enemy within, for when it comes to BSL, everyone believes they can identify a banned dog from forty yards, and many bull breeds have arrived in BSL prison because someone with a grudge against someone else shouted 'Pit Bull!! Pit Bull!!' Yet most pit bull sightings are as believable as the Loch Ness monster! And those with true compassion for companion pets, who seek to align dog legislation with a 'deed not breed' ethic, are ignored.

One Belfast family is making vast strides ahead in a very new and sadly vital campaign which they began because of the shock confiscation of their family dog Lennox. The brutal reality of BSL recently interrupted their happy lives, and now in order to save their gentle and very much loved pet dog Lennox, the Barnes family have set out on a fight to win back his freedom and his life. Mr and Mrs Barnes have no other option but to campaign and campaign hard, because their hearts are literally broken into pieces and they are missing their boy. Lennox has been in prison, at time of writing, for 43 days, 5 hours, 2 minutes, 43 seconds and counting--

I spoke with Caroline Barnes earlier this month when Lennox had been removed from her home for only a few days. The lady I heard on the other end of the phone was quietly spoken, intelligent, compassionate, polite and friendly. Though Caroline covered her heartbreak by chattering (as dog lovers do) about all the sweet and funny things Lennox did, I knew and I could hear in her voice how brave she was trying to be, but her heart is brimming over with the pain and hurt she is experiencing since Lennox was taken without warning, leaving every member of the household in shock. Caroline's heartbreak was obvious in the sad and weighted moments of our conversation. I came off the phone feeling wretched and at a loss for what to do to help this family. My own dogs gathered around me making a furry garland of care, their noses pushing softly to comfort me as I wiped tears from my cheeks and cursed the hateful BSL.

I imagined the pain Caroline Barnes was feeling having to discuss the loss of her dog because of a law that does not take into consideration the law abiding lifestyle of its victims, canine or human. I liken those who uphold and enforce BSL to bailiffs. BSL 'bailiffs' remove living objects from those who do not owe a debt and innocent dogs are confiscated from their families for what can be months, even years. The ongoing and high profile case of family dog Bruce, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier crossbreed in Northern Ireland, reaches its 3 year mark this September and Bruce has been incarcerated for all of this time as the wheels of the legal system run in slow motion and councillors and officials deliberate and pontificate at a snails pace, leaving Bruce existing in some kind of depressed half-life. This is the fate of many muscular pit bull look-alikes. If suspected pit bull type dogs are allowed to come home they can be returned under strict conditions known as the Exemption Register, this can only be achieved via order of a court and it means the dog must live a life of restriction for the rest of his or her days. Most worried owners agree to these restrictions to spare their dog's life. This is yet another humiliating and time consuming aspect of BSL, but owners do as they are told and jump through hoops or their dog gets it. Caroline has the misfortune of living in Northern Ireland where dangerous dog legislation is currently up for debate. They claim they do not have the exemption amendment there, which would allow friendly dogs deemed of type to live, but UK barristers state they do. As things stand, if Lennox is said to fit around half the characteristics of a certain vague breed standard that is no longer used for that breed, he will DIE.

So, what can I tell you about Lennox? I can tell you that Lennox was seized by a dog warden on Wednesday 19th May 2010, following Caroline's application to renew her dog licenses, a task she attends to annually. Belfast City Council have issued a dog licence for Lennox every year since he was a puppy, this year, after being registered for 5 years as an American Bulldog cross, he was seized under the dangerous dogs act, suspected of being of pit bull type. Until last month Lennox lived happily with the family's other dogs, an 8 year old male Yorkshire Terrier and a 3 year old female Boxer. Lennox is also insured, neutered, DNA registered, Pet Safe registered and micro chipped. The dog warden came to the Barnes home armed with a dressmakers measuring tape, yes you did read that correctly-- And after measuring Lennox's head the warden decided that he should be seized, that was the last the family have seen of their dog. Lennox has an underlying medical condition that requires regular treatment from a vet. Caroline does not know whether Lennox is receiving any medication because his physical and mental condition is unknown. There is no council helpline or resources for people like the Barnes family, no updates from the dog warden or the dog control department, no canine welfare reports, no visits, no feedback, no correspondence from the authorities, no comment, no care, no way to find out a thing. This is pure heartbreak. Families who have their dog taken from them in this way just sit and wait by the phone worrying about their pet. It seems the most dreadfully cruel way to treat people and of course the dog, who finds itself in a new and frightening environment. Human prisoners, no matter how heinous their crime, are allowed a visitor from the outside world. But even the most basic human consideration is denied dog owners, before any court proceedings have taken place. This is nothing short of mental and emotional cruelty, which should have no place in a society such as ours.

Caroline's main concern is for Lennox's health, she said, 'We know Lennox so well, he will be fretting terribly being parted from us and we have not had any replies from Yolanda Elwood, Dog Control Manager at Belfast City Council, though we have written to her several times to inquire about the welfare and whereabouts of Lennox, and we would at least like to be able to visit him to see for ourselves how he is coping and let him know that we have not abandoned him. I just cannot understand how Belfast City Council can be so heartless. We are responsible dog owners and law abiding citizens, our dog has never caused any trouble to anyone and we feel that we are being treated very badly. Our only option is to take our campaign to the highest possible level in order to save Lennox's life. People have offered us tremendous support and each day there are new messages inquiring about Lennox. We are receiving letters from as far away as America and Canada, we have also had amazing support locally from friends, family and neighbours and members of the public who want to help us bring Lennox home. Lennox now has his own campaign song and the media is contacting us to broadcast and share our story. We are so grateful and would like to pass on our sincere thanks to everyone from the bottom of our hearts, it is so touching to think that people all over the world are reaching out to be part of Lennox's campaign and we hope to highlight the injustice of BSL not only in the UK but world wide. It is a sad reflection of today's dog legislation that this could really happen to any responsible dog owner, and through our story we can show people how wrong it is for an innocent family pet to be seized, and maybe destroyed, simply because of the dog's appearance, it's not right or fair and the law must be changed to protect people like us and dogs like our Lennox who have done nothing wrong'.

What would we do if we were faced with this devastating scenario? How would we cope? Caroline and Craig Barnes and their disabled daughter Brooke had to begin 'coping' immediately and with no time to waste. This caring and respectable family launched the Save Lennox Campaign within days of Lennox being taken from their lives. If you visit Lennox's website you cannot fail to be moved by the pictures of him as a chubby, carefree pup playing in the grass, and now at 5 years old he is a very handsome, well cared for companion dog whose eyes look kind and gentle. The photographs are like the ones you see on any dog lovers' forum, but in this case the photographs are shared because Lennox's family are literally fighting for his life.

On the website you will see a picture that 11 year old Brooke created to plead for Lennox's safe return, for at the centre of this sad story there is a bewildered little girl who cannot understand where her pet dog has gone. On the picture Brooke has written the words 'Please bring my bestest friend in the whole world back to me'. The picture has reduced grown men to tears and compelled many groups and individuals world wide to gather and galvanize support for this family in their hour of need. Indeed a law that takes disabled children's pets from them does not deserve respect. Yes the law must protect the public from dangerous or out of control dogs, Lennox is neither, yet he was taken from Brooke and her family as easily as a teacher confiscates sweets from a child in class time. How will Brooke regard the law in years to come, I wonder?

The only explanation that Mr and Mrs Barnes can give their daughter is that Lennox is caught between a rock and a hard place for he is simply not permitted to be alive whilst BSL law exists, and it is deemed that, along with many other innocent dogs like him, Lennox should become null and void, a species that must be cut out of society and exterminated because of how he looks and nothing more. If we treated human beings this way we would almost certainly find ourselves in jail. But, this is a law for dogs and it would seem we are not the nation of animal lovers that we are considered to be after all.

You can find out more about the campaign for Lennox on this website --

And please sign the petition here --

You can ignore the rise of Breed Specific Legislation if you wish, until the day you may wake up to find your breed of dog, your best friend, is on the banned list. Since 1991 thousands of dogs have been destroyed because the dangerous dogs act doesn't like how they look -- regardless of how well behaved they might be. If even half of the UK's 10 million responsible dog owners spoke out against this uncivilised and disreputable law, we could actually repeal it and ensure BSL is replaced with educational resources that would better equip dog owners with training standards and bring irresponsible owners in line with safety measures that could save lives and ultimately help to keep the public safe.

BSL legislation does what it says on the tin, it bans breeds of dogs and types of breeds. What really needs banning is unfit law and your dog needs your voice, now!

Maria Daines

June 2010

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