Amy Gehrt: Lennox offers life lesson for all
His tale tugged at the heartstrings of animal lovers all over the world. Lennox, a beloved dog in Northern Ireland, was ripped away from his family and condemned to die merely for resembling a “pit bull-type dog” — which is illegal in that country.
But despite international outcry, a viral “Save Lennox” campaign that drew more than 200,000 supporters, including lawmakers and celebrities, and protests on both sides of the Atlantic, efforts to save his life failed last week when the Belfast City Council announced Lennox had been executed.
Like millions of other animal advocates, the news of this dog’s passing inexplicably brought me to tears. Most of us never met Lennox, nor do we know the Barnes family. Yet the fundamental unfairness of what was done to 7-year-old Lennox, whom Animal Planet “It’s Me or the Dog” celebrity trainer Victoria Stilwell referred to as “an historically unaggressive American bulldog-labrador mix,” resonates nonetheless.
It’s not like the council had no other option. Lennox had never bitten anyone, and lawyers for the family pointed out in court hearings that during the two years in which he was impounded his behavior continued to be above reproach.
Stilwell, who went to Belfast to personally appeal for Lennox’s life to be spared, said the dog posed no danger to the public. She even offered to bring him to the United States to re-home him — at her own expense.
Even Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson attempted to intervene.
“As a dog lover I am very unhappy with the outcome of this case,” he tweeted. “Spoke to Lord Mayor about Lennox. Suggested BCC (Belfast City Council) should seriously look at re-homing option. Why exercise the order if there’s an alternative?”
Yet the council dug in its heels and refused all alternatives to the death sentence. And, in a last show of cruelty, it even denied the devastated Barnes family the chance to say goodbye to Lennox.
Sadly, Lennox is by no means the only innocent dog to fall victim to asinine legislation targeting specific breeds. Pit bulls often bear the brunt of this unfair stereotyping, but all one has to do is watch an old episode of the “Dog Whisperer” to see that pit bills can be as wonderful as any other dog.
Renowned animal behaviorist Cesar Millan’s beloved Daddy was a staple of the show before the dog’s death in February 2011 at age 16. Millan called on the far-from-aggressive pit bull to rehabilitate other dogs and teach them how to become what Millan calls “calm submissives” — and, in doing so, Daddy also helped repair the breed’s image in the minds of millions of viewers.
Yes, pit bulls can be dangerous, but that also can be said of dogs from any breed. In fact, one of my close friends recently made a surprising discovery when looking for a new home in the city where her soon-to-be-husband is being transferred with the U.S. military. Because her two mixed-breed dogs have some common chow characteristics — traits which can also be found in other breeds — she was researching banned and restricted breeds.
Her investigation revealed that golden retrievers — one of the most popular dog breeds in the United States, and one of the most widely recommended “family” dogs because of their sweet and tolerant nature — were also on many lists.
In fact, more than 75 breeds are on banned or restricted lists in cities across the country, including Labrador retrievers, Samoyeds, Australian shepherds and even pugs.
As the proud pet parent of a golden retriever named Sosa, I find it incomprehensible that my sweet, wonderful boy could end up on the wrong side of breed specific legislation. He’s a certified therapy dog who regularly volunteers at places such as libraries and hospitals, and he happily allows all dogs — big and small, even puppies — to be “the boss.”
However, apparently dogs are not being judged on their own merits these days, and stories like Lennox’s are becoming all too common as a result. If one looks hard enough, there are bound to be some bad apples to be found within each dog breed. But just as with people of various races and ethnicities, dogs should be evaluated based solely on their own actions.
We all need to stand up and make it clear that discriminatory breed-specific legislation is unacceptable. If you do nothing, the next time a dog is unfairly targeted it could very well be your family pet’s life that is on the line.
Amy Gehrt may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.