Northern Ireland, what’s going on? Your record on enforcing animal-related laws over the past year is, shall we say, embarrassing. More than embarrassing, it’s scandalous.
Somehow, despite the creation in 2012 of a brand new government office dedicated to animal welfare investigation and prosecution, nothing’s being done. Well, that’s not true. The Belfast City Council did manage to enforce one animal-related law, and it did so with a vengeance. A sweet, much loved dog is dead because of it.
“Disappointing to the Point of Being Alarming”
The Animal Welfare Service (AWS), newly established in April 2012, is charged with the responsibility of enforcing domestic animal laws in Northern Ireland. Previously, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) handled companion animal and horse abuse cases. Local city councils handle actual enforcement, as overseen by the AWS.
Between April 2012 and April 2013, the AWS received a whopping 4,292 reports of animal cruelty.
Wouldn’t a brand new organization be eager to impress queen and country with aggressive investigation and action? How many of these cruelty reports would you guess resulted in prosecution? Five hundred, you say? One hundred? Thirty, perhaps?
Try one. That’s right, just one. One man, David Price, faced prosecution in November 2012 and pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to care for a dog. His cocker spaniel, reduced to skin and bones and suffering from a skin disease, was taken away from Price and given to an animal sanctuary. Price’s sentence was suspended, and he was ordered to pay court and vet costs.
Impressed with the mighty hand of justice in Northern Ireland? Neither was the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA).
“It’s disappointing to the point of being alarming that there haven’t been more prosecutions in the first year,” the USPCA told the Belfast Telegraph. ”We would like to see more people brought before the courts – we would like to see people banned from keeping animals. [The AWS] need[s] more personnel on the ground, better coverage at weekends and they need to tell people that they exist.”
According to reports, the AWS has nine animal welfare officers covering the entire country. If you evenly divided the cases for the year among them, that’s about 476 cases per officer. That’s well more than one case arising every day of the year, and all of them need follow-up and investigation. More personnel would seem to be an absolute necessity if the AWS is to be anything other than overwhelmed.
Meet the Animals for Whom There Will Be No Justice
The Belfast Telegraph profiled a number of abused or neglected animals whose cases were part of the 4,300 complaints the AWS received during its first year. No one has been brought before the law for these distressing crimes:
- A Rottweiler, thrown down an 8-foot manhole, lay undiscovered in extreme summer heat for three days. She had bruises and cuts, and was severely underweight and dehydrated. It appeared she may have been struck with bricks. A veterinary nurse who cared for the dog told the Belfast Telegraph: ”I was very shocked at how underweight she was. It was upsetting because she has such a beautiful nature; the wee tail never stops wagging.”
- A Greyhound, probably a former racing dog, was abandoned with his ears completely cut off. Greyhounds are often tattooed on the ears to identify them, so it’s likely his heartless owners sawed off his ears to keep from being traced. This dog, now known as Norman, was adopted by the chairman of the rescue group who rehabilitated him. He’s described by his new owner as the “most beautiful, docile dog that you’ll ever see in your life.”
- Four horses were found by a mother and her children near a park, standing in pools of their own blood. Their legs had been horribly gashed, and one horse was missing an eye. Due to lack of resources, it took a veterinarian four hours to arrive on scene. One horse had to be euthanized.
- Nine dogs were rescued from a Belfast apartment that was six inches deep in feces. Among them was a Shih Tzu which was crammed into a small cat carrier, caked in fecal matter, with a leg that had been broken for weeks. Another dog had a “rancid mouth,” a swollen tongue, infected eyes and was infested with lice and fleas. She suffered from dementia, as she was walking in circles, and had to be euthanized.
None of these cases reportedly resulted in prosecution or charges. It’s not clear whether enough evidence existed to enable effective investigation of these cases. However, out of over 4,000 cases, surely evidence that could support prosecution existed for some of them, didn’t it?
A Dog Is the Victim of the One Animal Law Northern Ireland Did Enforce in 2012
Contrast this apathetic response to reports of abused animals with what happened to one innocent dog during the same timeframe. Care2 readers might remember the outrageous and tragic tale of Lennox, the bulldog/labrador mix who was euthanized by order of the Belfast City Council in July 2012.
His offense? He looked like a “pit bull-type” dog. That’s all. Pit bulls are illegal to own in Ireland.
Lennox hadn’t bitten anyone or done anything wrong. Authorities deemed him objectionable under the Dangerous Dogs Act solely by measuring how long his legs were and how wide his muzzle was. That ratio demonstrated him to be a “pit bull-type” dog and therefore a danger to the public.
By all accounts, Lennox was a friendly and loving dog. He was neutered, microchipped and insured. He even served as an assistance dog for his owner’s disabled daughter.
Nevertheless, because of a tape measure and a collection of mindless government officials who would not see reason, Lennox spent a heartbreaking 22 months confined in a small, ugly concrete room before he was finally executed. Authorities refused the family’s pleas to save Lennox by letting them send him away to a sanctuary to live out his life.
Piling callousness on top of cruelty, Lennox’s owner, Caroline Barnes, was not permitted to be with Lennox when he was put down. She was not even allowed to come collect his body afterward.
All in all, it was a staggering overreaction to the outward appearance of one dog.
Belfast officials spent a great deal of time and effort over the course of two years on the Lennox case. Fierce public outcry, combined with celebrity pleas for mercy and the First Minister of Northern Ireland’s urgings to reconsider, helped make the situation a public relations nightmare for the Belfast City Council.
The Council acknowledged having been “subjected to a sustained campaign of abuse including threats of violence and death threats” over the Lennox case. Yet it marched onward, firm in its resolve to rid the world of a “dangerous dog.” Was this really necessary?
Why Is Northern Ireland So Woefully Ill-Prepared to Deal with Animal Issues?
At a time when the country is doing absolutely nothing about the 4,300 animal cruelty complaints that are pouring in, why did the Belfast City Council would work so assiduously to enforce a silly breed ban by killing an innocent dog? The priorities at play here boggle the mind.
So far, Northern Ireland appears to favor almost fanatical protection of humans from imagined animal threats over the real world need for protection of abused animals. Safeguarding people and animals need not be conflicting goals. Surely Northern Ireland can be a good steward of the law for both its citizens and its animals.
The world will be watching to see what the next year brings.
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