Christos Papakostas saying goodbye to his pitbull Wicca outside a courtroom.

Worldwide – People around the world continue to mourn the loss of Lennox, the dog taken from his family, kept for two years, then killed by the Belfast City Council under the Dangerous Dogs Act. Lennox lost his fight, but agonized pet owners around the world are still facing the same fight against breed discrimination and breed-specific legislation (BSL). The example of Lennox can still help others.

We will start with a story that seems to have a happy ending: that of Jon Smillie and his dog Duke, of Yeovil, Somerset, England. Jon got Duke when Duke was a 5-month-old puppy, and always believed he was a Staffordshire terrier, which is not a banned breed. Officials in Somerset had a different opinion. One day in May, Smillie learned from a friend that police were looking for his dog, who had been reported to be a pit bull, which is a banned breed. After speaking to authorities, Smillie was of the belief that Duke’s breed just needed to be confirmed, so Smillie handed Duke over to Avon and Somerset police dog liaison officer for “inspection.” It took him over two months of legal wrangling, fundraising and generating support to get Duke back. Happily, on July 19, a decision was made in Smillie’s favor. He writes on his Save Duke facebook page: “We have to wait at least a few weeks before Duke actually comes home, he has to be neutered tattooed and micro-chipped and entered onto the Index of Exempted Dogs. We have been told that he is in good health but still can’t see him to make sure.” So Duke will have spent months away from home, but at least he will be spared and returned to his family.

Then there is the story of King, 3 year old pit bull from Noblesville, Indiana, who was accused by a neighbor of attacking her dog, who had dug a hole under their shared fence. King went through the hole into the neighbor’s yard, where the neighbor says the attack occurred. A veterinarian could not find any damage or wounds to the neighbor’s dog, so no report was filed, but the neighbor kept calling authorities until a formal complaint was allowed to be lodged. A hearing was scheduled. According to King’s owner (via facebook), “The judge said that ‘all pitbulls are naturally aggressive and even with proper training will always be aggressive’ He gave me the maximum fine, ordered me to pay her bogus vet bills and the court costs, AND HAS THE INTENTIONS TO EUTHANIZE KING if any further ‘Incidents’ occur. He gave me 90 days (from june 13th, 2012) to prove king was no threat, HOWEVER said if ANY ‘incident’ occured [sic] again he would kill him. He then looked at my neighbor and said for HER to detail the ‘incident.’ He considers an incident ANYTHING MY NEIGHBOR SAYS HAPPENS EVEN WITH ZERO PROOF. With no clear definition given of course even barking could be considered.” So while King was initially spared, his life is still in danger. An appeal has been filed.

Many have already lost their fight. Lennox is currently the most famous of these, of course, but there are many others:

Bear and Kooda, two young beloved family dogs in Australia, seized by authorities in September 2011; deemed to be pit bulls and put to death on June 14, 2012.

Tony, an 8-year-old pit bull/Sharpei mix from Arizona, was euthanized in June after a neighbor accused Tony of killing her Chihuahua in 2011. Evidence showed that Tony’s canines had all been broken, making it impossible for him to have left the deep puncture wounds found on the Chihuahua. This evidence was ignored, say witnesses who attended the trial, because of his breed. According to Trish Snow, friend of Tony’s owner, “From the moment the hearing began, the judge, literally, had a smirk on her face when the attorney was pleading Tony’s case. I knew what the verdict would be in the first five minutes, I’m sorry to say.”

There are hundreds, possibly thousands currently fighting for their lives. There is no way to list them all here, but here are a few examples.

Mylo is the pet of an 11-year-old girl in Melbourne, Australia, who got out of his yard and ended up at the Melbourne “pound.” Authorities determined that he may be part pit bull, a banned breed, and he was scheduled to be euthanized in May. The family appealed; Mylo’s fate is pending.

Rocket, another Australian dog, got loose when part of his fence blew down in a storm. Instead of running loose, he went to his family’s front door and waited on the step for them to come home. A neighbor reported him as a loose dog, he was picked up by authorities, and now he is being held by the Cardinia, Victoria council as a restricted breed (pit bull). His Shadow, an Alaskan malamute, has been held by the Regional District of the Central Okanagan, Canada, for 15 months for allegedly biting a woman. Authorities reportedly want the dog euthanized, but her owners and others dispute her guilt. Her owners and supporters have objected to the conditions in which she is being held while her fate is decided.

Wicca, is a 5-year-old American Staffordshire Bull Terrier who was deemed a dangerous dog by the city of Montreal after allegedly biting a woman and sentenced to die. Her owner appealed the decision, saying that the bite was minor and there were extenuating circumstances (Wicca was “spooked”). He asserts that “an incident as mild as this warrants a 90 day muzzle order, a fine and an evaluation by a canine professional. Wicca was never given that opportunity.” Wicca was scheduled for euthanization, but the shelter holding her reportedly refused to perform it, saying she is a “good dog.” As this is being written, urgent efforts are underway to obtain a stay of her execution and permission to ship her to the United States. (UPDATE: This report was drafted the afternoon of July 26. Sadly, Wicca was euthanized later that day.)

It would be impossible to list all the individual dogs affected by breed discrimination and BSL. It is happening every day, everywhere. Though the focus is currently on the United Kingdom’s breed-specific prohibitions, several countries have similar legislation: Australia, Brazil, Bermuda, Canada, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Germany, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and Venezuela all have restrictions or outright bans on certain breeds, as does the United States (although the restrictions vary by state).

One could argue that a person opens himself up for heartbreak by obtaining what he knows to be a banned breed that could be seized and killed at any moment, but most of the dogs whose confiscations have been publicized were believed by their owners to be breeds other than the banned ones; Lennox’s owners believed him to be a Labrador retriever/bulldog cross. Others live in countries where, although the breed is banned, there are exceptions made for dogs who have shown no propensity to be dangerous. In too many cases, the dogs are put down anyway.

Supporters of BSL assert that the public is protected by these laws, because the breeds included are inherently dangerous. Whether or not that is true is open to debate: critics of those breeds will cite statistics of dog attacks as proof of the threat to people; advocates will relate stories of family pets that are, have always been, and will always be completely harmless. But the danger in BSL is not only that innocent individuals are being punished for the deeds of a few; it is the slippery slope created by the precedent banning one, or two, or a few breeds of dogs. Currently, most bans focus mostly on “bully breeds” such as pit bulls and other bulldogs. Tomorrow, it may be the cocker spaniel; one may scoff at the idea, but despite their cute appearance, cockers are known to be unpredictable and snappish. Already, breeds banned by counties or municipalities, according to Examiner.com, include “the Airedale Terrier, Alaskan Malamute, American Eskimo Dog, Australian Shepherd, Boston Terrier, Golden Retriever, Keeshond, Labrador Retriever, Pug, Samoyed and Siberian Husky.” And, “These are just eleven of the over 75 breeds that are currently being discriminated against in the United States.” There is a very real possibility that your dog, or a dog you have in the future, could end up a target of BSL.

The current outpouring of support for victims of BSL is heartening. Many people realize the unfairness of targeting a dog just because of the way it looks. Perhaps this current groundswell of public opinion will have an impact, and innocent lives will be saved. In this way, at least, the death of Lennox and others like him will not have been in vain.

Story by Mikki Hooven