LONDON — After months on death row and a transatlantic campaign howling for his release, time has run out for Lennox the dog. He has been put to sleep, officials in Northern Ireland announced Wednesday.
In a terse statement, the Belfast City Council said it has humanely destroyed “one of the most unpredictable and dangerous dogs” that its appointed expert had ever come across. The council expressed regret for the court-ordered euthanasia, which it carried out for reasons of public safety despite “a sustained campaign of abuse” against city officials, including threats of harm and death.
The plight of Lennox, a pit bull terrier-type mutt, had inspired a viral social-media campaign in both Britain and the U.S., where animal-rights activists and others demanded that the dog be returned to its owner. Thousands of people signed an online petition for a stay of execution; First Minister Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland’s top leader, and Lennox Lewis, the boxing champion who shares an obvious connection to the dog, joined the chorus urging mercy.
In its odyssey through Northern Ireland’s legal system, Lennox’s case almost resembled that of a human offender convicted of a capital crime (except that the death penalty — for two-legged criminals, at any rate — is outlawed in Britain).
The condemned canine’s fate was sealed last month when an appeal for clemency was dismissed by Northern Ireland’s most senior judges, who upheld the ruling of two lower courts and ordered the euthanasia to go ahead.
The dog was first taken into custody two years ago out of concern for public safety. Pit bulls and dogs like them are banned in Britain.
Begging for Lennox to be restored to her and the destruction order reversed, owner Caroline Barnes testified in court that her beloved pet had never bitten anyone. But under cross-examination, she acknowledged that the dog could at times be aggressive.
“Lennox’s only issue is with strangers, which is when I would muzzle him,” she said. “In my home environment he is not a danger.”
Barnes and her lawyer noted that Lennox had been perfectly behaved in custody and that the law against pit bulls included certain exemptions and alternatives to destruction. But judges were unmoved.
“There were no such measures that could be applied in this case that would address the concerns relating to public safety,” the Belfast City Council said in its statement Wednesday.
That didn’t stop denunciations of the judges and officials from echoing through the Internet and the Twitter-sphere, where angry and distraught supporters decried the imminent destruction of “our beautiful innocent brave boy” and described a world in uproar over the “injustice” being meted out to a helpless animal.
They also urged supporters to inundate Belfast officials with complaints and letters, though presumably not of the threatening variety — doused in gasoline — that some city workers reportedly have received. Another city worker found her car tires slashed.
On a Facebook page devoted to saving the dog, an “official statement from Lennox’s family” said: “We have been denied the opportunity to say goodbye. We have also been told that we cannot collect his body and bring Len home. We have been informed, however, that we will receive ‘some’ ashes in the mail.”
— Henry Chu
Photo: Undated family handout photo of Lennox, an illegal pit bull terrier-type dog in Belfast. Credit: Associated Press.