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‘Irish Staffs’ expose confounds animal charity

AN IRISH animal re-homing charity has launched an investigation after a worker was filmed rubbishing a clampdown on pit bull terriers and supplying information on the availability of a potentially dangerous dog.

The worker at the Mid Antrim Animal Sanctuary had been asked if it had any ‘ Irish Staffs’ - a commonly-used codename for banned pit bulls.

He then provided a member of the public with the phone number of an owner in Belfast, but warned him to ‘watch where you are going’ when seeking this type of dog.

‘People will take your name and address and then you'll get a knock on the door a couple of months later,’ he added.

The sanctuary worker also made abusive comments about the USPCA and council dog wardens over their stance on what he called ‘the pit bull scare’.

The charity's committee has moved swiftly to distance itself from the remarks and announce an internal investigation.

In a statement to the press, the Charity also stressed that it does not condone the keeping of illegal breeds and ‘will continue to work closely with vets and local agencies to ensure that it complies with current legislation’.

The footage - understood to have been secretly recorded late last month - has been obtained by the USPCA.

It shows a man behind the charity's counter being asked if it had any ‘Irish Staffs’ in its shelters. The sanctuary worker replied: ‘Not so much no more, because of that pit bull thing, you know.’

The man made derogatory comments about council wardens and USPCA chief executive Stephen Philpott, who has been campaigning to highlight the threat to the public from pit bulls.

He then provided the phone number of a woman in Belfast and said the ‘chances are’ she had what the man was looking for. He advised that these dogs have been the subject of ‘bad publicity’ recently and stated: ‘I would watch where you are going, you know, as I say. People will take your name and address and then you'll get a knock on the door a couple of months later.’

Referring to the ‘pit bull scare’, he added: ‘It would be different if the dog wardens knew what they were talking about.’

He claimed dogs were being mistakenly identified as pit bulls and said: ‘ A whole lot of people are trying to say Irish Staffs are pit bulls.’

The worker added: ‘See this whole c**p about pit bulls at the minute, like. Everybody, they're getting rid of them left, right and centre at the minute, like. We can't take any more in, because we got our dogs lifted.’

The Mid Antrim Animal Sanctuary remains locked in a legal battle over three dogs seized from its shelter by Antrim Council last year on suspicion of being pit bull terriers.

The Sanctuary has argued that these dogs are not pit bulls and has hired a UK expert to back up its case.

In its statement on the secret video footage, the charity said: ‘We would like to assert that the comments allegedly expressed by a member of staff in question are not in any way those held by the management of Mid Antrim Animal Sanctuary.

‘The sanctuary has always worked within the law and indeed has worked closely in the past and will continue to work with the PSNI, local authorities and relevant government agencies to maintain the health and welfare of both cats and dogs in Northern Ireland.’

The chairman of the charity's executive committee, Stephen O'Neill, said: ‘ We have always maintained a good working relationship with the relevant agencies and would not like to think that the personal opinions of one member of staff would jeopardise this.

‘The executive committee will investigate these allegations thoroughly and, should they be substantiated, we will take very strong disciplinary action against the member of staff implicated.’

Antrim Council has meanwhile described its case over the seizure of three dogs from the sanctuary last year as ‘ongoing’.