Today has been hailed as ‘Hank Day’ – as a Belfast judge ruled today that a beloved pet dog seized by Belfast City Council can be returned to his owners.
A global campaign was sparked when Hank, who is not even two years old, was taken from his home in East Belfast. Hank was on his own in the house when a heavy police presence, reported to consist of up to eight police officers and four dog wardens, came to take him away.
It happened after it was reported to the council that the dog was a pitbull, a breed banned in NI.
Mr Collins, who is a computer science student at Ulster University, returned home from his placement to find Hank gone. He told BBC NI at the time: “My dad walks Hank during the day when I’m at my placement and he called to tell me that he wasn’t there.
“I rushed straight home to find the warrant on my door and Hank gone…
“I can’t fathom why anyone would report him. He lazes about for 90% of the day and wants to play the other 10%.
“He is a very playful dog and is part of our family, my nieces and nephews adore him and my dad loves walking him.
“He’s extremely affectionate, we’ve never had any issues with aggression.”
An assessment concluded that although he was “a pit bull terrier-type” breed, the pet could be placed on the council’s exemption register as it didn’t pose a threat to the public, thus saving it from death.
A judge at Belfast Magistrates’ Court granted Hank an exemption order during a brief court hearing on Tuesday morning.
Supporters of the dog were in court and applauded as the judge ruled Hank could return home.
A lawyer for owners Leonard Collins and Joanne Meadows thanked all those who had supported their campaign to save Hank.
As part of his release conditions, Hank will be kept on a lead and muzzled in public.
The court heard Hank had come to Belfast City Council’s attention as a result of a complaint from a neighbour.
He appeared to “display agitated behaviour”, and he was removed after a warrant was executed.
A dog expert ruled that while the dog was boisterous, he showed no sign of being a threat.
Leonard and Joanne, who have kept a high profile social media presence with their Save Hank account on Facebook, maintained throughout the case that Hank was a beloved, affectionate family pet who’d never displayed any issues in the past with aggression.
The couple had Hank, who is neutered, insured and micro-chipped since he was a pup and had been told he was a cross between a Staffordshire bull terrier and a Labrador.
They have revealed they are about to be reunited with Hank, who they haven’t been allowed to visit, since he was suddenly removed from his home.
Leonard and Joanne are going to use money raised to save Hank to continue the fight against BSL – which has gained more widespread support from dog lovers across the world, who believe ‘There is no such thing as a bad breed’ and that dogs should certainly not be punished where no aggression has been displayed.
The rally for BSL is set to take place at Stormont Buildings on Sunday, August 14 at 1pm. Dogs are warmly welcome.