America’s Huffington Post Feature Lennox Article

America’s largest news website the Huffington Post today published Lennox’s story. The article by columnist Joan Smith reads as follows:

An Outrage In Belfast:
The Sad Case Of Lennox, The Dog.


The Huffington Post LogoThose of us living in what we consider free societies often feel secure that if we comply by laws, pay our taxes, and maintain other civic duties we should not live in fear of government officials entering our homes and disrupting our families.

Not so in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where a tragic situation that is nothing short of Orwellian has played out for over two years. Lennox, a Labrador/American Bulldog mix, was seized from the Barnes family under the U.K.’s “Dangerous Dogs Act” (DDA) and sentenced to death due simply to his physical measurements. Under the DDA, if a dog’s measurements are in line with their standard for “pit bull types”, the dog can be seized without warrant and sentenced to death (a recent amendment stipulates the that the dog must also be proven dangerous). The DDA assumption that physical traits dictate a dog’s behavioral tendencies is contradicted by well known dog experts and virtually every major veterinary, animal control, and emergency medical associations worldwide – all of whom have spoken out against these laws .

It’s hard to image a more unlikely target for the law than the Barnes family. Lennox is an American Bulldog/Labrador mix who had never been reported for any act of aggression, and in fact had never exhibited a single sign of misbehavior. He is not only a family pet, but has served as a therapy dog and soulmate for a disabled girl, Brook Barnes, who is now 13. Lennox’s family had provided a stable, loving home environment. He had been microchipped, neutered, DNA registered, insured, and even had a valid city-issued dog license. By all accounts, Caroline Barnes, a former veterinary nurse, is a model pet owner.

Yet on May 19, 2010, the City of Belfast saw fit to turn their world upside down, in the most baffling way imaginable: Two dog wardens (who operate under the auspices of Belfast City Council) came knocking at the Barnes door bearing a warrant with an entirely different address; it’s still unclear whether the visit was a simple mistake or prompted by Ms. Barnes’ recently renewing the city dog license. The Barnes related that after smoking cigarettes and pleasantly chatting over tea, they produced a tape with which they measured Lennox; they then announced they were seizing him because, by their assessment of his measurements, he was “of type.*

That was nearly two years ago. Since then, in spite of massive worldwide outcry, including pleas from noted dog behavioral experts and celebrities, a petition that now bears over 127,000 signatures, and a growing “Boycott Belfast” movement, Lennox has been held in a secret location while the family pitches a desperate legal battle for his life.

It’s no exaggeration to say that prosecution case against Lennox has been rife with inconsistencies, errors, and even accusations of perjury. The absurd twists and cast of characters could make this case darkly comic — Samuel Butler or Dickens would have had a romp with it — if it didn’t ultimately hinge on one innocent life, and the suffering of a heartbroken girl.

One would think the case would have been put to bed in September 2011, after two expert animal behaviorists, Sarah Fisher and David Ryan, presented the results of their separate, extensive evaluations of Lennox. Both came to the conclusion that Lennox is friendly and of no danger, and presented these reports to the court.

Inexplicably, the judge dismissed those evaluations, and instead relied on the opinion of one Peter Tallack, a police dog handler and noted supporter of the DDA, whose official role in the case was simply “breed identifier.” In a quirky bit of testimony, a flustered Tallack offered the opinion that Lennox was “waiting to go off,”

Apparently using this as the basis, Judge Rodgers called Lennox “a disaster waiting to happen” in a ruling that upheld Lennox’s death sentence not on the basis of any past or current behavior, but on a projection that he might be aggressive at some point in the future. (Imagine if a human defendant were convicted on these grounds!)

When the defense appealed again in late January of this year, the case was reviewed by the very same Judge Rodgers, who – surprise – chose not to overturn his own ruling.

Outrage sums up the reaction of Victoria Stilwell, celebrity dog trainer and host of the program “It’s Me or the Dog,” with whom I spoke earlier this year. Stilwell has been outspoken in her support for Lennox, devoting a number of articles and a podcast to it, and against breed specific legislation in general (which she sums up as “addressing the wrong end of the leash”). Stilwell has studied the video assessments of Lennox and reviewed Sarah Fisher’s report, and simply can’t believe the judge would have taken the word of Tallack – who is, by his own admission, not a behaviorist – over the the opinions of two highly regarded professionals.

Concurring with Stilwell is Jim Crosby, a dog trainer and expert in canine aggression. By his account, he has personally assessed more dogs involved in fatal attacks than anyone else on the planet. He stresses that breed is most certainly not a factor in determining whether a dog is dangerous or not; it is the individual characteristics of a dog. This is a man who knows aggressive animals, and he cries foul in the Lennox case. “This poor dog didn’t do anything, he was minding his own business, happily at home,” he said in a January conversation. “That’s the baffling thing.”

Also like Stilwell, Crosby questions why the testimony of Tallack, a police dog handler, was given credence by the judge. He says to have someone with Tallack’s highly focused skill set evaluate a family dog like Lennox for aggressive tendencies is “like asking a guy who works on Piper plane to repair the space shuttle.” It’s a very different type of dog in a completely different situation.

Both Stilwell and Crosby continue to speak out passionately about the Lennox case, and Stilwell has especially expressed alarm over evidence that Lennox’s health is deteriorating further, based on photo evidence showing massive hair loss and sores.

A final appeal to high court is set for May 24. If it is ruled that Lennox cannot be returned to his family, the defense is asking at least to allow a friendly party in the Republic of Ireland (where there is no breed specific legislation) to adopt him.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Belfast, a family’s beloved pet – a dog who has never spent so much as a day in a boarding kennel — remains locked in a small dank cell surrounded by sawdust and feces, a victim of misused policy and a few humans who would rather see him put to death than admit a mistake. Now, that’s a crime.

Article Source & Courtesy Joan K. Smith, Huffington Post

Statement On Lennox By Sarah Fisher

Statement On Lennox By Sarah Fisher

It has been brought to my attention that a small clip of my assessment of Lennox has been put on the internet.  This clip has been taken completely out of context and whilst I have remained relatively quiet on this case since I spoke in court, I feel that I am now forced to make a statement to clarify what actually happened during the time I was with Lennox.

Wrongly or rightly many documents and details about this case have been passed onto different parties. I do not feel it is appropriate for me at this moment to discuss in detail everything that has been said to me, nor to put forward my own ideas regarding all the statements made, as everyone is entitled to their own opinion and beliefs.  What I am qualified to do however is to discuss behaviour. My assessments, statements and videos of those assessments have been accepted in other court cases at Magistrates, County and Crown Courts here in the UK so the field of assessment in cases such as this is not unknown to me.

I do not care if I am to be criticized by members of the public or even other professional bodies as I have a wealth of experience handling and working with many breeds of dogs, large and small and I also work with horses with behavioural issues so do not need to defend the claims that I have little or no experience of working with powerful animals such as Pit Bull Types. I would however like to clarify that a Pit Bull Type is often a mix of dogs.  Nothing extraordinary happens to the psyche of a dog when it conforms to certain measurements.

I do care however that Lennox is being portrayed in a poor light through this video clip as my experience of handling Lennox was thoroughly enjoyable and I now feel the need to explain in greater detail the truth, as I see it, about my assessment.  I know that Victoria Stilwell has been what I would consider to be a sane voice amidst the madness that surrounds this case and she has seen full video footage of the assessments carried out by myself and David Ryan plus other documentation.

When the door to the van was first opened Lennox barked.  He barked at me three times when I approached.  As I said in my report this is not uncommon behaviour in any dog that is in a confined situation in a crate, kennel or in a car.  He was also shaking like a leaf but this does not come over in the video that my assistant took of this assessment.  He was clearly frightened as he could not have known what was going to happen to him and again this is not an uncommon behaviour in the dogs that come to me for help. No one has ever disputed that Lennox can be anxious around some strangers but I believe the key word some has sadly been overlooked.

I asked for someone that Lennox knew to take him out of the crate to keep his stress levels low. Entry and exit points can be a source of conflict for any dog. I was told I had to handle Lennox on my own for the entire assessment and that he had bitten the last person that came to see him.  This is the clip that has been released.  Had I had any concerns for my safety or those around me given that I was to be fully and wholly responsible for a dog that I do not know and that I had been told has bitten, I would not have continued with the assessment if I believed that dog to be a danger either to myself or those who were standing in the car park. Lennox gave me a lot of information about his temperament whilst in the crate.  In court however, and therefore under oath, Ms Lightfoot the Dog Warden stated that in fact Lennox had not bitten anyone so I have to assume on the evidence placed before the court that the statement made to me at the start of my assessment was untrue.  Given the publicity surrounding this case I am also confident that had Lennox actually bitten anyone whilst in the care of his family as has been suggested someone would have come forward by now.

I spent approx 15 minutes with Lennox prior to being taken from the crate, working with a clicker and some treats to see if, even in the environment that was causing him some anxiety, he could still learn and take direction from a stranger. He could. His eyes were soft and he was friendly. At this point I would also like to clarify the meaning of the word friendly.  It does not mean confident.  Was Lennox anxious? Yes.  Hostile?  No.

I believe that Lennox would have been totally at ease had I indeed taken him out myself but I also believe I have a duty of care to reduce stress where possible when handling any animal in a situation that is causing them distress.  No doubt this statement will also be taken out of context by those who wish to discredit me and to discredit my belief that Lennox is not a danger to the public based on my experience with him and also based on the video assessment carried out by David Ryan which I have also seen.

I use food in an assessment to monitor the dogs stress levels and emotions at all times. It is not a bribe. A habitually aggressive dog will generally seek out conflict in my experience but even these dogs can often be rehabilitated. No amount of food can disguise this behaviour and giving food to a dog with aggression issues can be extremely dangerous. The dog may be lured to a person by the promise of food but once it has taken the food it may panic as the offering of the food has now brought that dog into close proximity with the threat i.e. a stranger. I have worked with dogs with aggression issues and whilst some may well take the food, the person delivering the food may not be able to move once the food has gone as the movement of the person, even the smallest movement of their arm, may trigger the dog to lunge and bite. I would not hand feed a dog that I deem to be aggressive. The delivery of the treat must come from the person that the dog knows and trusts – not the stranger. The dog can learn to approach a threat and then turn back to the person that the dog trusts for the reward if the approach to the person is appropriate.  I use food throughout an assessment to monitor what is happening with the dog on an emotional and physical level not to make him my best friend.

Lennox was so gentle with the taking of the food both in the crate and also later in the car park.  He was also appropriate in his behaviour with the games we played. He was also gentle when he jumped up at me to see if he was allowed the food that I was withholding in my hand. When he realised it wasn’t forthcoming he politely backed off. This would suggest to me that he has been around a family. Not chained up in a yard as has also been claimed by people who do not know the family or the dog.

Lennox showed excellent impulse control at all times and at no point did he grab me or my own clothing which many dogs do when getting excited by a game.  I have worked with some truly challenging dogs and some will become increasingly aroused by lead ragging or games with toys and start seriously mouthing or biting the handlers arms or clothing. This can quickly flip over to more overt aggression and these dogs can be dangerous particularly if they are being handled by just one person.  It is imperative that dogs with this behaviour are taught a more appropriate way of interacting with people and responding to the leash and also greater self control. There are many ways to help dogs that have been encouraged, through mishandling and misunderstanding, to behave in such a manner.  Kicking and beating them is certainly not the answer.

Lennox does rag on the lead but it is very self controlled. He did not exhibit any of the behaviours that I have mentioned above. Regardless of what some uneducated people may wish to think, it is possible to glean a lot of information about a dog through games and food as many behaviour counsellors and trainers will confirm.

I wrote a fifteen page report on my experience with Lennox and my thoughts about the David Ryan assessment. In this report I state that I have concerns about the appearance of Lennox’s neck. In the video I explain this too.  His ears are unlevel and there was a change in the lay of his coat over the Atlas in line with the nuchal ligament that is present between T1 and C2 vertebrae.  Coat changes often occur in dogs, cats and horses that have suffered injury or those that are unwell. I have studied this over seventeen years of handling many animals. In all cases where I referred an animal back to a vet, whether it was in the care of a shelter, owned by my private clients or students that I teach changes to the soft tissue or skeleton were noted on further detailed investigation.  When I see this around the neck in a dog I know that it is likely to give the dog cause for concern when someone unknown to that dog attempts to handle the collar or put on or take off a lead.  Coat changes may well be present where deep bruising has also occurred. Pain and pain memory is a key factor in many behavioural problems.

Lennox was quite rightly put on Amitriptyline. I do not believe that the Council have failed in their duty to care for Lennox when it comes to the stress that he has been under and I understand that this drug is used to treat anxiety and depression.  It was with interest, though, that I discovered that this drug is also used to treat chronic pain in dogs. Again this was mentioned in my written report.  This may explain in part why my experience with Lennox seems to fly in the face of other evidence presented before the courts. He was not on Amitriptyline when he was assessed by David Ryan.

I would absolutely move on to touch an animal all over its body in any assessment that I do.  I may or may not choose to muzzle a dog that is unknown to me to do this if I have concerns about the body language that I have seen prior to this part of my assessment.  I elected not to stroke Lennox all over because of my concerns about his neck, the newly forming scabs that were present on his flanks and the blood that was present around the nail beds around his right hind foot. This decision was made based on the physical evidence before me not because I felt I would be in danger.  I talked about this in court which was open to the public and at the end of my assessment which is also on film I explained this to a representative from the BCC Dog Warden team and asked if there was anything else that she would like me to do with Lennox.  She said no.

I cannot comment on what happened when Lennox was seized or measured by Peter Tallack because I wasn’t there. I can explain behaviour though and any frightened animal can be intimidating. I have recently been in Romania working with traumatised horses and two stallions had not been mucked out for months as the staff (men) were too scared to go in with them. They called them ‘pitbulls’ such is the misguided impression of this type of dog.  Hay had been simply thrown over the stable doors and their water buckets were hanging crushed against the stable wall.  I went in with them, not because I have any desire to be a hero, but because I can read an animal well and within minutes they were quiet, standing at the end of their stables albeit it pressed up against the walls. I was calm with them and we took out all the filthy bedding and fetched new water buckets for them too. They didn’t attack anyone. They were simply terrified and they were not provoked. I spent time with one of them on my own, hand feeding him and was finally able to touch his face. This process probably took less than half an hour. I was totally absorbed in what I was doing and when I turned to walk out I realised that one of the Romanian men had been watching me. He raised his eyebrows, gave me the thumbs up and walked away. Other people could then go in with this magnificent horse too and hand feed him the fresh sweet grass that we had picked from the surrounding fields so it isn’t simply that I am quiet in my handling of animals nor possess some extraordinary skill that can make even the most savage lion behave like a lamb when in my company.

I can perhaps, help an animal that is struggling, gain trust in human beings as many people can.  I can perhaps work with a difficult animal and make it look as though that animal is calm but all the time I am reading that animal. Every second of the way. I am looking at the eyes if it is safe to do so, I am watching the respiration, I am studying the movement, the set of the ears and the tail and so on and my opinions about an animal are based on many years of working in this way.  One case that will always stand out in my mind was a large member of the Bull Breed family.  I believe she was two years old.  I won’t go into the details here but I will say that when I worked with her she appeared to be very good to the member of kennel staff that was watching.  At the end of my assessment the member of staff asked me what I thought.  I sadly had to say that I thought the dog should be put to sleep. The member of staff was horrified and I remember her saying ‘but she’s been so good with you’.  But I had noticed some worrying signs.  The shelter ignored my advice and rehomed the dog who savaged the new owner so badly the owner ended up in the ICU. Of course the dog was immediately destroyed.

I knew what I was walking into when I agreed to go and assess Lennox for the family.  To have to defend Lennox outside of the court has, however, come as a surprise.  I have made this statement to shed a little more light on what is a distressing case for all those involved,  knowing full well that I will no doubt be subject to further scrutiny and criticism. So be it. I am not afraid. If nothing else this case has highlighted some important issues about the fears and prejudice concerning dogs, their breed types and their behaviour. Certainly it highlights the sad truth as Xenephon said so wisely in 400 BC. Where knowledge ends, violence begins.

The Save Lennox Campaign © 2011 Sarah Fisher

Belfast City Council’s Secret Internal Email

We all remember just a few weeks ago when Lennox’s owner went to Belfast City Hall to attend a council meeting and we all remember how this lady was treated by the staff within the City Hall, from the sharp tongue and secret whispers of the City Hall receptionist, the over protective jobs worth security guards to the beady evil stare of a certain Health and Environmental department head. We all know that Lennox’s owner went to the City Hall peacefully hoping to speak to councillors and to raise concerns about the dog legislation in Northern Ireland and to also speak about Lennox but the majority of those councillors held their ears and refused to speak or answer questions from the voting public who pay their salaries. Lennox’s owner stood for almost an hour waiting patiently clutching to her walking stick to support herself  without the offer of a chair to sit on from any of the security guards, staff or from the receptionist, none of these brave councillors attempted to come and speak to a gentle well spoken lady simply waiting for a few moments of their time, instead four security staff were ordered to accompany Lennox’s owner everywhere she went, including the Ladies toilet where they stood outside the door waiting for her to return! We all remember why the Belfast City Hall staff behaved like they did, we all know why the majority of councillors ignored Lennox’s owner, it was because of the secret internal email sent to all party leaders and councillors suggesting there would be some sort of public protest at Belfast City Hall and the Health and Environmental head responsible for sending this secret internal email also ordered all councillors not to speak to anyone about Lennox or anyone representing Lennox. The public voted for and pay the salaries for these councillors and yet they take orders from a department head and refuse to speak to the public who granted them their positions within government and council? Such things would never happen in any other democratic country yet it clearly happens in Northern Ireland and within the chambers of Belfast City Hall. At this point I should state that four councillors did take the time to speak to Lennox’s owners and they will also report that Lennox’s owner was indeed a well spoken pleasant and approachable woman that posed no threat in her weak condition to staff or the internal meeting being held within council chambers and the Save Lennox Campaign thanks those four councillors for their time. As for the majority of the other councillors they should be ashamed of themselves especially as many denied any whispers or rumours of secret internal emails doing the rounds within City Hall. Well today again the Save Lennox Campaign Blog can prove the existence of the highly denied secret internal email and as you can see below it isn’t a rumour nor is it a whisper.

Update: A few very helpful people who are Lennox supporters and who are close to certain sources have made suggestions that there is a slightly more harsher second secret internal email that was sent to all parties within the chambers at City Hall and the one below has been edited, I must stress at this point that we are unaware if this to be true and are unwilling to comment on its existence any further but as always we know that only time will tell… as it always has.

The Secret Internal Email
The Secret Internal Email

Certain elements within this image have been blocked out for privacy reasons.

 

Belfast City Council's Secret Internal Email

We all remember just a few weeks ago when Lennox’s owner went to Belfast City Hall to attend a council meeting and we all remember how this lady was treated by the staff within the City Hall, from the sharp tongue and secret whispers of the City Hall receptionist, the over protective jobs worth security guards to the beady evil stare of a certain Health and Environmental department head. We all know that Lennox’s owner went to the City Hall peacefully hoping to speak to councillors and to raise concerns about the dog legislation in Northern Ireland and to also speak about Lennox but the majority of those councillors held their ears and refused to speak or answer questions from the voting public who pay their salaries. Lennox’s owner stood for almost an hour waiting patiently clutching to her walking stick to support herself  without the offer of a chair to sit on from any of the security guards, staff or from the receptionist, none of these brave councillors attempted to come and speak to a gentle well spoken lady simply waiting for a few moments of their time, instead four security staff were ordered to accompany Lennox’s owner everywhere she went, including the Ladies toilet where they stood outside the door waiting for her to return! We all remember why the Belfast City Hall staff behaved like they did, we all know why the majority of councillors ignored Lennox’s owner, it was because of the secret internal email sent to all party leaders and councillors suggesting there would be some sort of public protest at Belfast City Hall and the Health and Environmental head responsible for sending this secret internal email also ordered all councillors not to speak to anyone about Lennox or anyone representing Lennox. The public voted for and pay the salaries for these councillors and yet they take orders from a department head and refuse to speak to the public who granted them their positions within government and council? Such things would never happen in any other democratic country yet it clearly happens in Northern Ireland and within the chambers of Belfast City Hall. At this point I should state that four councillors did take the time to speak to Lennox’s owners and they will also report that Lennox’s owner was indeed a well spoken pleasant and approachable woman that posed no threat in her weak condition to staff or the internal meeting being held within council chambers and the Save Lennox Campaign thanks those four councillors for their time. As for the majority of the other councillors they should be ashamed of themselves especially as many denied any whispers or rumours of secret internal emails doing the rounds within City Hall. Well today again the Save Lennox Campaign Blog can prove the existence of the highly denied secret internal email and as you can see below it isn’t a rumour nor is it a whisper.

Update: A few very helpful people who are Lennox supporters and who are close to certain sources have made suggestions that there is a slightly more harsher second secret internal email that was sent to all parties within the chambers at City Hall and the one below has been edited, I must stress at this point that we are unaware if this to be true and are unwilling to comment on its existence any further but as always we know that only time will tell… as it always has.

Certain elements within this image have
been blocked out for privacy reasons.

Belfast City Council Secret Internal Email

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