A pug-nosed black Belfast dog named Lennox, who inspired a two-year legal fight and animal-rights protests on both sides of the Atlantic, was destroyed in Belfast, Northern Ireland on Wednesday amid claims that city council staff had been threatened with death.
It's a case that animal advocates in Miami-Dade County have used as an example as to why breed specific legislation -- which makes it illegal to own a pit bull in the county -- must be repealed in the upcoming Aug. 14th election.
"It is a saddening thing to see trusted officials in any government position anywhere making unfounded and atrocious decisions in reference to the lives of animals," Dahlia Canes, Founder of the Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation (MCABSL), told Local10.com.
"The disregard for Lennox's life and the dignity which is his birth right, was uncalled for. It is thru ignorance and fear that these laws are placed into books and enforced, without any basis or foundation based solely on what the dog looks like. This is canine discrimination. This is canine genocide. How is it possible for governments to intend to eradicate an entire breed of dog without rhyme or reason?"
Belfast City Council confirmed that, despite offers from people around the world to move Lennox to another location, the 7-year-old dog was put down after a deadline for legal appeals expired.
Dog wardens deemed Lennox, a pit bull-type dog, to be a public danger and seized him from his owners in April 2010. Lennox spent two years in a municipal dog pound while his owners and city authorities battled in the courts. Northern Ireland's senior appeals judges last month upheld two 2011 rulings that the dog should be put down.
- Lennox campaign: http://www.savelennox.co.uk/
- Lennox's Facebook page: http://on.fb.me/yTTYDD
- 'Save Lennox' on Twitter: http://bit.ly/LHvMy2
- Petition: Repeal Breed Specific Legislation
His owner, Caroline Barnes, argued that Lennox was a bull dog mix, not a pit bull terrier, never attacked anyone and could be resettled outside Northern Ireland in a jurisdiction that permits ownership of pit bulls, specifically the United States.
An online "Save Lennox" petition and social media campaigns on with tens of thousands of followers, many of them using the Twitter hashtag LennoxArmy, spurred protests in Belfast and New York seeking his freedom. Among its supporters was First Minister Peter Robinson, leader of Northern Ireland's regional government, who has no role in enforcing animal welfare laws.
Barnes said the council had rejected her request to be present when the dog was put to sleep and instead would send her the ashes by mail.
City council staff said experts had found Lennox to be menacingly erratic in his behavior and a clear qualifier for the U.K.'s dangerous dogs law that bans the ownership of pit bulls or dogs similar to them. And they condemned a campaign of hate messages to council staff, which included the public naming of dog-control officers and threats to wage "war" against Belfast City Council.
"The council's expert described the dog as one of the most unpredictable and dangerous dogs he had come across," Belfast City Council said in a statement. "Over the past two years, council officials have been subjected to a sustained campaign of abuse, including threats of violence and death threats."
Councilman Pat McCarthy said Lennox's owners appeared to be in denial about the public safety risk posed by their dog.
"The people looking after Lennox for the past two years said that one minute the dog was placid and friendly, and the next he would try to get through the fence to get at you," McCarthy said. "Now, do we release that dog into society?"
McCarthy said dog catchers and other council staff had suffered campaigns of intimidation to the point where they felt obliged to flee their homes.
"We've had petrol poured through letter boxes. We've had people named on the web. There have been attempts to demonize our staff for doing their job," he said.
Victoria Stilwell, who hosts the Animal Planet dog-training program "It's Me Or the Dog," said she felt crushed that Belfast officials hadn't permitted Lennox's resettlement in a U.S. sanctuary for pit bulls.
"I hoped Belfast City Council would realize that there were alternatives that provided a sanctuary for Lennox in the USA where he would be safe, but they did not listen," she said.
Lennox's supporters say his death will not be in vain, and vow to continue the fight against breed specific legislation. A petition started on Wednesday had nearly 20,000 signatures by Thursday morning.
"Lennox was just one of the BSL victims that was brought to light," Canes said. "Thousands upon thousands, lay in dark corners awaiting their execution, unseen, unheard and terrified, for they feel the sense of death all around them. In Miami-Dade County, this scenario has taken place on an every day basis since 1989! It is time to end this needless killing! On August 14th, in the county elections, it is on the ballot. For Lennox and in the memory of all fallen angels,. please VOTE YES (#500). The end of BSL is near and the Pittie smiles above will be from ear to ear!"