LEGISLATION which resulted in a family pet dog being destroyed by council officials in Belfast after the animal was deemed to resemble a banned pitbull-type breed, has been condemned as too hasty by Borders MSP Christine Grahame.
Ms Grahame was speaking to TheSouthern just days after Belfast City Council carried out the order to put down the animal, a seven-year-old American bulldog/Labrador cross named Lennox.
Owned by the Barnes family, Lennox had been removed from his owners’ home in Northern Ireland more than two years ago after council dog wardens deemed him a banned breed and a threat to public safety.
This was despite claims from the family that the dog had never exhibited any aggressive behaviour.
However, his plight touched the hearts of millions, with 200,000 from around the world signing an online petition as part of a two-year campaign by his owners that drew celebrity backing from both sides of the Atlantic.
But the UK has a breed-specific ban on American Staffordshire terriers, more commonly known as pitbulls, which was extended to Northern Ireland last year.
Under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1997, pitbull-type dogs can be put down if they are deemed a danger to the public – something that the Barnes family had argued had not been proven.
Lennox’s destruction was ordered by Northern Ireland’s Court of Appeal last month.
The dog, described by an expert from Belfast City Council, as one of the most unpredictable and dangerous that he had come across, was finally put to sleep last week.
Commenting, Ms Grahame, SNP MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale & Lauderdale, who piloted the Control of Dogs (Scotland) 2010 Act through parliament, told TheSouthern: “Any dog can be dangerous – it doesn’t matter what they look like. As we know dog training, socialisation and the responsibility of dog owners all play a key part in ensuring dogs do not pose a danger.
“I believe Scotland has shown the way with my own piece of legislation – The Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act – which puts the onus where it belongs on the owner not the dog, and also aims to intervene early when a dog, and indeed the owner, needs training. I believe that legislation elsewhere has been put in place too hastily, which has led to issues like this one.
“I know that other governments, including the Welsh Assembly, are now picking up on what has been done here in Scotland, so it shows we have got it right.”
But the Borders’ best-known dog training expert still has serious concerns about the state of dog legislation in Scotland and the UK.
Trudy Davison, who runs the Dryburgh Abbey Dog Training Group, has been working with dogs for 35 years and is a veteran of the world’s greatest dog show, Crufts.
She says dogs are still being unfairly punished.
“We pride ourselves on being a nation of dog lovers, but we’re not – not by the way some people treat dogs and because many people are very anti-dog.
“Much of this legislation still unfairly targets dogs because we are expecting a dog to change its nature too much. If a dog rushes up to a gate and barks at a stranger, is it being aggressive or welcoming?
“If that stranger then reports it to the police as – in their opinion – being aggressive, you could end up with a control order on your dog.
“But the people who have problem dogs are people who will not bother reading up about dog legislation – they will know nothing about it or what is expected from an owner.
“It comes down to ignorance in most cases.”