Belfast, Ireland – Now that the case against Ireland’s most famous dog, Lennox, has reached its tragic conclusion, parties to the proceedings are free to speak out. One of Lennox’s most outspoken supporters, Victoria Stilwell of Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or the Dog,” asserts that members of the Belfast City Council made threats against her and that the Council’s “expert” in the case tried to sue her over statements she made about his qualifications.
According to an open letter Stilwell published on her Facebook page, “the BCC’s ‘expert’ did try to sue me for speaking out against him and questioning his credentials, and yes he did expect money from me to settle the dispute.”
Lennox was a Labrador/bulldog mix who had been the beloved pet of Caroline Barnes and her family since they got him as a puppy in 2005. He was seized by police under Northern Ireland’s “Dangerous Dogs Act,” which prohibits ownership of certain breeds of dogs. Lennox appeared to officials to be a “pit-bull” type dog, one of the prohibited breeds.
Stilwell came into the case a year ago. As an expert on animal behavior, she hoped to provide insight into Lennox’s personality, given that Lennox’s family portrayed him as a harmless family pet, contradicting the Council’s assessment of Lennox as a dangerous animal. She also brought in “canine aggression expert” Jim Crosby to evaluate Lennox. Crosby is a Jacksonville, Florida based expert who is a certified behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer who has been involved in evaluations of thousands of dogs, including those accused of actually killing people.
Lennox had first been assessed by the Council’s evaluator, Peter Tallack, when Lennox was taken from his family in May 2010. He declared Lennox to be, by his appearance, a “pit-bull type dog,” which is prohibited under the Dangerous Dogs Act, and indicated that he could be aggressive.
Lennox’s family began what would be a hard-fought two year battle to regain custody of their dog. They hired a lawyer, who brought in their own expert, animal behaviorist Sarah Barnes. Her opinion was that Lennox was a safe dog; this assessment was ignored by the Council and courts.
Next, behaviorist David Ryan was hired by the family. He spent over an hour with Lennox and subjected him to extensive testing designed to bring out any aggressive behavior that may be inherent in a dog. After his meeting with Lennox, Ryan also determined that Lennox did not pose a danger to anyone. His evaluation, too, was rejected by Council and court.
Although neither Stilwell nor Crosby were ever allowed to meet Lennox in person, they reviewed all existing behavioral evaluations of Lennox, and viewed the videotape of Ryan’s testing of Lennox. They both concluded that Lennox was a danger to no one and should be returned to his family.
Despite what seems like overwhelming evidence indicating that Lennox was not a dangerous dog, the Council and each court to which Lennox’s case was presented chose to believe the assessment of the Council’s so-called expert, Tallack, who continued to insist that Lennox was “one of the most unpredictable and dangerous dogs he had come across,” according to the Council’s report. When Stilwell, Crosby and others rightly objected to Tallack’s lean qualifications (he is a former police Constable who worked with police K9 units), the Council and Tallack reacted negatively, culminating in Tallack’s attempt to sue Stilwell, presumably for libel and/or slander. As Stilwell reports, “ was not successful because all I did was speak the truth.
“But,” she goes on to point out, “these are the kind of people that the family, myself and all those who have supported Lennox, have been up against.” The fact that the opinions of proven experts were discounted in favor of someone with barely any qualifications at all begs the question: Was Lennox’s fate preordained when he was taken from his family in 2010?
Perhaps the real truth will come to light now that all parties are free to speak freely.