When Leonard Collins returned home from work, his loving dog Hank was not, unusually, at the door to greet him. In fact, there was no joyous barking to be heard nor any tail-wagging to be seen. Instead, there was only a note.
Collins and his partner Joanne Meadows had owned Hank since he was a puppy, and the threesome lived happily together in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Indeed, the couple were so close to their canine companion that Meadows often referred to him as her “baby.”
The couple understood that their two-year-old pup was a Staffordshire Bull Terrier-Labrador mix – a big dog, but all heart. “He’s so lovable,” Meadows told the Belfast Telegraph. “He has a big grumpy face and I just love it.”
He was also pretty laid back. After all, Hank mostly spent his days napping, and if he saw a cat while on his infrequent trips outside, he’d likely scamper the other way.
But around people he was all love and cuddles. In fact, Hank was so affectionate that an animal behaviorist was helping the pup to control his hug-requests and nuzzles around strangers. So when Hank was taken from his own home, the family were left completely baffled and in utter astonishment.
And their confusion only deepened when they read the note. It turned out that the note was left by the police, and Hank was now under the care of Belfast City Council, per a judge’s order following the Dangerous Dogs Act.
It was explained that someone had reported Hank to the authorities for being a pit bull. The police were therefore legally required to take the dog; nevertheless, Collins and Meadows were understandably distraught.
“I can’t fathom why anyone would report him. He lazes about for 90 percent of the day and wants to play the other 10 percent,” Collins told BBC News. “He is a very playful dog and is part of our family, my nieces and nephews adore him and my dad loves walking him.”
But ardent legislation in Northern Ireland deems that pit bulls are an “inherently dangerous” breed of dog. Therefore, if Hank was identified as a pit bull, the loving pup could face euthanasia without his family even having the chance to say goodbye.
So while the council attempted to determine Hank’s breed through his physical attributes and demeanor, the couple prepared to battle the decision in court. In fact, they even set up an online petition in a bid to save their pet. This revealed the heartbreaking predicament that Hank needed special medication to treat his allergies and a skin condition.
“All of this has started from one person’s opinion and they won’t let me see him, won’t tell me where he is,” Collins told the Belfast Telegraph. “He’s with people he doesn’t know, in a situation that isn’t familiar. His intolerance is triggered by food allergies, and given a stressful situation that could flare up again.”
A crowdfunding page was also launched to raise funds for Collins and Meadows to pay for a professional to determine Hank’s breed. And support was so strong for Hank that the couple had surpassed their $20,000 target within two weeks.
What’s more, it only took 14 days for the online petition to receive almost 300,000 signatures in support of saving Hank. There was a Facebook page, too, and that quickly clocked up over 80,000 likes.
It’s no surprise, then, that the “Save Hank” campaign captured the media’s attention. In fact, the cuddly canine’s story was covered by seemingly everybody from the Daily Mail to The Dodo.
But when the press approached the Belfast City Council regarding Hank’s situation, it had little to say to assure his fans. In fact, the council simply said that Hank was “being well looked after and his needs [were] being met.” It added, “The dog known as Hank has been taken in for assessment, and it would be inappropriate to comment further while this assessment is ongoing.”
Then, on July 28, 2016, Collins and Meadows got the update that they had been dreading. The council had concluded that Hank was indeed a “Pitbull Terrier type.”
Luckily, however, Hank’s friendly temperament meant that he received an exemption order, which saved him from death. Speaking after the council’s decision, Collins and Meadows said that they were “relieved” and “overwhelmed” at the prospect of being reunited with their baby.
The couple were told that they would have Hank returned to them within a week, following a formal court hearing. But despite winning their battle, the couple have vowed to keep fighting against Breed Specific Legislation in Northern Ireland.
“We are hugely relieved and very overwhelmed and we just want to get him back now. But we know that we have to go through the formal court hearing before he can be handed back to us,” Meadows said.
They are now looking into how they can use the funds raised for Hank to stop other dogs meeting the same or, more likely, a worse fate. In a rousing statement to accompany an online petition, for instance, Collins pointed out that “the continued banning of dogs based on their physical appearance does not solve the problem of aggression.” What’s more, he argued that the law should “punish the deed, not the breed.”