This is the final speech I gave on Tuesday night. RIP Lennox.
This is the story of Lennox.
Lennox was adopted into the Barnes family at birth. He grew up in a loving home, adored by his parents. He and his older sister, Brooke – who was disabled – were especially close. It seemed like an excellent match, and for years it was idyllic bliss. However, one day, officials came knocking at the door. They had deemed Lennox to be “dangerous”, simply by the way he looked. He was taken from his family and locked up in isolation. For two years his family fought for his freedom, but for nothing. Lennox was still deemed to be “dangerous” and was sentenced to death and despite assurances to the contrary, his family was never allowed to see him once. And so it was that after two long years of neglect and suffering and possible abuse at the hands of the system, the sentence was carried out. Yes, this really did happen. No, it didn’t happen hundreds of years ago or in some backwater, third-world country. Lennox was executed last week in Belfast, Northern Ireland. So why did this happen in this day and age? Because Lennox was a dog.
This is the failing of Breed Specific Legislation, or BSL. A certain breed of dog is banned and any dogs of that breed, no matter what their history, are caught and put to sleep based solely on something they can’t even help. If this were to happen to a race or ethnicity of humans, we would call it racism and genocide. But because it’s “just an animal” it’s somehow different. These days, Pit Bulls bear the brunt of BSL, just like Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, and German Shepherds before them. Never mind the fact that a study by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the CDC, and the Humane Society of the United States, which analyzed decades of fatal dog-bite statistics, found that there is no breed that is inherently more dangerous. All the study showed was that the most popular large-breed dog at any given time was at the top of the list. Imagine that. Now just listen to these two descriptions of dog breeds a moment:
(1) The X is a strongly built, medium-sized, short coupled dog possessing a sound, athletic, well-balanced conformation that enables it to function … Physical features and mental characteristics should denote a dog bred to perform efficiently … The most distinguishing characteristics of the X are its short, dense, weather resistant coat … a clean-cut head with broad back skull and powerful jaws.
This is opposed to number two …
(2) The Y should give the impression of great strength for his size, a well put-together dog, muscular, but agile and graceful, keenly alive to his surroundings. He should be stocky, not long-legged or racy in outline. Head: Medium length, deep, broad skull, very pronounced cheek muscles, and ears are set high. Muzzle: medium length, rounded on upper side to fall away abruptly below the eyes. Jaws well defined.
So what breeds are being defined here? The real question is, does it matter? Both of these breeds are American Kennel Club recognized and the wording is taken directly from the AKC standards. One of them is a breed often labeled as dangerous and is mentioned in bans. The other is one that is often touted as the perfect pet.
So what’s the point of BSL? What BSL tries to do is to reduce dog attacks, a noble enough cause, right? The problem is the way they go about it because when it comes to dogs biting, what BSL fails to do is to address the root of the problem: the owner. When people want to get a dog simply because it’s a status symbol, or “badass”, or if owners don’t raise and discipline their dogs correctly either because they don’t know how or they don’t care, guess what? That leads to aggressive, ill-behaved dogs. Instead of addressing the root problem, they go after the dog and its breed, labeling them as “inherently vicious and dangerous” despite the previously cited study. It is prejudicial in nature, targeting dogs simply for existing rather than criminals who use them for illegal purposes or irresponsible dog owners.
Going back to dog bite statistics themselves, for a moment, there are several failings even with that. For instance, they list all dog bites, even those dog bites that are truly provoked, such as when a dog is teased, harassed, or abused. They also don’t list non-fatal dog bites, so there is no way of knowing what breed of dog – small or large – is actually biting more. In that same vein of thought, those statistics don’t take into account the estimated number of dogs of a certain breed versus the number of dogs of that breed that actually bit someone, so there’s no way of knowing the overall percentage of Pit Bulls that bite as compared to, say, Golden Retrievers or Poodles. Also, did you know that with those statistics that breeds are listed in groups, not individually? Under “Pit Bulls”, you’ll find no less than three distinct and separate breeds, any dog that appears to be one of those breeds, plus any misidentified dogs.
It’s actually a bit ironic that Pit Bulls are labeled as dangerous now a days considering that just a short century before they were being hailed as the best dogs to have, much as Golden Retrievers are these days. They were owned by famous people such as Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Thomas Edison, Woodrow Wilson, John Steinbeck, Helen Keller and Fred Astaire. One in particular, Stubby, was the unofficial mascot for the 102nd Infantry Division and was credited with saving several of his human companions, which won him medals and the rank of Sergeant. Another popular Pit Bull, and one you may know, is Petey, the lovable dog featured in the old TV show The Little Rascals who worked alongside small children on the set.
I could go on about the average temperament of a Pit Bull, but it wouldn’t say anything about Lennox. You see, the Belfast City Council labeled him as a “Pit Bull type” based on his looks and certain measurements that were taken, even though DNA evidence that came out well before his execution clearly said that he was a Labrador/American Bulldog mix. But hard, indisputable facts obviously didn’t matter to Belfast; Lennox looked enough like a Pit Bull or Pit Bull mix and therefore he was dangerous and should be destroyed. Canine Aggression expert Jim Crosby along with others offered many times to professionally evaluate Lennox, but they were refused access. Famous Dog Trainer Victoria Stillwell, featured on the Animal Planet TV Show “It’s Me or the Dog” even offered to rehome Lennox somewhere in the U.S., but she was turned down. And along with being denied the chance to say goodbye, the Barnes’ daughter, Brooke, was even denied her request of keeping his collar as a memento once he was put down. So why was Lennox really killed, if he wasn’t even a part of the supposed “dangerous” breed? Simply put, he was a victim of a prejudiced and unfair system, a system that needs some serious revamping if it wants to achieve its core goal of reducing dog attacks.
Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” In this regard, Northern Ireland has utterly failed.
So please, let’s not let Lennox’s death be in vain. Let it instead be a rallying cry against a broken system so that we can change it to protect both humans and dogs alike.