Jeremy Thurman on July 17, 2012
After two years in the custody of Belfast’s animal control, Lennox, a pit bull-type dog, was euthanized Wednesday, July 11, in Northern Ireland. Over the past two years, Lennox’s fate has been the topic of much debate and a long legal battle. He was seized by the dog warden in 2010 when he was deemed dangerous to the public. This is both a tragic news story surrounding the pit bull breed, and a difficult moment in breed specific legislation.
Authorities categorized Lennox as a “dangerous, illegal pit-bull terrier type” dog, but his owner, Caroline Barnes, describes him as an American bull dog, Labrador retriever mix, and a beloved family pet. The breed distinction may seem unimportant, but with pit bull attack statistics creating reactionary responses in communities, and specific laws targeting pit bulls in Belfast and across the United States, the distinction is an important one.
Along with his exact breed, whether Lennox actually displayed any aggression is unclear, but the law regarding the ownership and handling of pit bull breed dogs is strict. Ms. Barnes stated that she took safety precautions with Lennox by placing a muzzle on him in public places, but Belfast’s City Council indicated that the public’s safety must be prioritized. Lennox didn’t appear to have a record of biting, but his unpredictable behavior landed him in trouble. Her safety measures were not enough.
Authorities stated that his behavior combined with his indeterminate breed did not make him a candidate for rehabilitation. Ms. Barnes and interested animal advocates fought for his freedom for more than two years, culminating in the creation of numerous online campaigns devoted to Lennox, and the involvement of dog training celebrity Victoria Stillwell. Despite their efforts, Belfast’s City Council’s decision to euthanize Lennox was not revoked.
Beyond the legal battle, this is a heartbreaking story of pet ownership and civic responsibility. Caroline Barnes’s efforts to adhere to the law while continuing to care for Lennox became increasingly difficult. Lennox likely needed better training, or earlier socialization, steps any responsible dog owner should take regardless of the breed. Sadly, given the law and Lennox’s appearance, there was no room for misstep. It is unfortunate that Lennox, and many dogs like him, must bear the brunt of this difficult conflict.