Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Mad dogs and Englishmen

Great Britain is an enlightened nation in many ways. It abolished slavery in 1833, three decades before America did so -- and without a bloody civil war. But when it comes to man's best friend, the British adhere to outdated, ignorant, and inhumane practices.

Last week, a mutt named Lennox was killed by authorities in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A dog warden with a tape measure declared it a "pit bull." In reality, the 7-year-old American bulldog/Labrador mixed breed was a victim of prejudice and stubbornness.

Britain passed its Dangerous Dog Act in 1991, in response to incidents involving aggressive, uncontrolled dogs. Rather than target the real problem -- the acts of irresponsible owners of dogs of any breed -- lawmakers banned ownership of most dogs that fit the "pit bull" type.

In Great Britain and Northern Ireland, death by tape measure became the law of the land. As in Lucas County under former dog warden Tom Skeldon, dogs are routinely killed for the crime of having a pug nose and a stocky build.

Lennox's owners argued it had never bitten anyone and was aggressive with strangers only inside the home. It was neutered, microchipped, DNA-registered, and insured. It was kept muzzled and on a short lead outside the home.

Dog lovers around the world rallied to save Lennox. More than 200,000 signatures were gathered on petitions. TV dog trainer Victoria Stilwell offered to fly Lennox to a sanctuary in the United States at her own expense. Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson asked Belfast City Council to reconsider.

The courts and Belfast's elected leaders were unaffected. In Northern Ireland, where not so long ago people killed each other for wearing the wrong color or attending the wrong church, dogs now die because they have the wrong shape.

The British have had other blind spots. For more than a century, they enforced a six-month quarantine on dogs to prevent the introduction of rabies to the island. Yet the Web site says that of the 200,000 cats and dogs imported between 1973 and 1998, none had rabies.

This year, Britain got rid of the six-month quarantine, as it brought its laws in line with those of other European countries. It's time for other British dog laws to enter the 21st century as well.

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