AN INNOCENT family pet dog was saved from destruction last week in the case brought under the Dangerous Dogs Act in Merseyside.
‘Red’, a one year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier owned by Patricia Lynn Kenny (pictured above) was seized by Merseyside police officers as a pit bull ‘type’ dog as part of the ‘Dangerous Dogs Amnesty’ in the Merseyside.
Mrs Kenny had contacted police when the Amnesty came into effect in order for them to examine Red and give her some advice as to his ‘type’. The officers who attended Mrs Kenny’s house examined Red and found him to be a friendly pet dog, but seized him regardless as they felt he conformed to the ‘type.
Whilst Red was held in police kennels awaiting trial, an examining police officer felt his behaviour to be dangerous, so the police sought the dog’s destruction on behavioural grounds. Mrs Kenny opposed the destruction and, thanks to support from the anti-DDA group Deed Not breed secured the services canine solicitor Trevor Cooper to defend Red.
An officer from Merseyside Police Dog Unit gave evidence. He explained that he had attended a seminar on identifying dogs under the DDA, organised by the Metropolitan Police, which had been taught ‘by experts and vets’. As far as behavioural examinations went, only 10% of an examination was given over to behaviour, the other 90% being on physical characteristics, using the American Dog Breeders Association standard or the American Pit Bull Terrier as a guide.
He went onto explain that on April 21st, he had examined Red in police kennels where he had found the dog to be indulging in mounting behaviour. When he had ‘actively’ discouraged Red from this behaviour, the dog had ‘become aggressive, growling and snapping’ at him and the rest of the examination had to be conducted outside of the kennel. He had later spoken to Ms Kenny about red’s behaviour and, although she was aware of it, she was not bothered by it, or concerned for her children’s safety. He understood that Red slept on her bed.
Under cross-examination by Trevor Cooper,the officer stated that he was not presenting himself as an expert on behaviour and confirmed, when pressed, that all his evidence was based on his own observation. He admitted that he had kept no contemporaneous notes of his interview with Lynn Kenny that she had not been under caution. Mr Cooper suggested that Ms Kenny had not been interviewed by him and said that she was mistaken.
The next witness was dog warden Cathryn Mailer, who had examined red in April. When asked by the prosecution counsel if she had dealt with dogs with possible behavioural problems, Mailer replied that she had not done so ‘in this context’, but that she had been a dog warden for four years and had dealt with pit bulls. Mailer added that a member of the kennel staff had reported their concerns on Red’s behaviour to her although she had not, herself, observed him at this point. Their concerns were that he would ‘play on his own terms’. When she had examined him, her observations were that we was ‘a dominant dog, mounting and play biting’.
Mr Clarke asked: ‘If you told the dog to stop (this behaviour) and it refused, would this be evidence of it being a dominant dog?’ Mailer: ‘Yes’.
She went on to describe how she had been present during Lyn Fleet’s examination of Red and that he had behaved in the same way, and that Fleet had put him back on the lead.
In conclusion, when asked by the prosecution, Mailer clearly stated that the dog was a danger to the public adding: ‘In my professional opinion, it may cause injury to someone.’
Mr Cooper then cross-examined Mailer, querying her expertise in dog behaviour and asking whether she was a member of any professional dog training bodies. Mailer said that she had ‘taken an exam’ which was ‘mainly theory based.’ There followed a series of questions as to what constituted ‘dominant’ or ‘aggressive’ behaviour. Mr Cooper asked: ‘Would you say this behaviour was caused by the dog’s confinement in kennels and would this behaviour go away with appropriate training?’ Mailer replied: ‘Possibly. It depends on your definition of ‘appropriate training’.’
Lynn Kenny was called by Mr Cooper to give evidence next. She stated that she shared a house with her their children, two of which were older teenagers and one of which was a 10 year-old. She loved all animals. Her boyfriend had bought Red for her as a puppy in July 2006 when he was six weeks old. She did not know that he was an illegal ‘type’.
When asked whether Red had bitten another person or dog or indulged in play biting, Ms Kenny answered no. She had seen no evidence of his mounting behaviour, but pointed out that her other dog, a bitch named Izzy, had just come into her first season in February 2007, and so she had been advised by her vet to have Red neutered. She had voluntarily called the police when she heard about the amnesty, seeking some advice as to what to do. Two police officers had attended her home in late February and both had said what a lovely, friendly dog Red was. She had of her own volition made contact with a local dog trainer named Guy Richardson, a well-respected ex-police dog handler and would, if Red was returned, be booking him in for training with Mr Richardson. She was now fully aware of the law under the DDA and was prepared to comply fully with all the requirements of this if Red was returned to her. When questioned by the judge, Ms Kenny added that she had no concerns over Red coming home and felt that he would fit back in with her family and Izzy.
Further evidence was given by Mrs Kenny’s vet, Brian McVay, who explained that he had conducted a thorough clinical examination of Red, which included many procedures including putting his hand in the dog’s mouth, touching his eyes and ears and that he had been given no problems at all by the dog. Under cross-examination, McVay added that play biting was a behaviour picked up possibly due to lack of stimulus and could be corrected by training.
Behaviourist Lyn Fleet gave evidence, referring to her own examination of the dog on June 1st. She outlined her credentials as having been a dog trainer for many years and her membership of the UK Register of Canine Behaviourists and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. She did not consider Red to be a danger to public safety. In her experience, castration would help him calm down, as would training. ‘Age-wise, he is a hormonal, spotty teenager’, she said. All Bull breeds enjoyed games of ‘tuggy’ and could easily be put under their owner’s control if they followed the advice of a trainer.
Fleet easily fielded the prosecution’s cross examination questions, pointing out that she had deliberately not wanted to know anything about the dog before examining him, so as not to prejudice her report. Her initial assessment of the dog was that he was a ‘nice boy, but bored.’
After summing up from both counsels, the judge returned for ten minutes to consider his verdict. Upon returning he outlined his careful regard for public safety, but paid tribute to Lynn Kenny for being a responsible owner.He was mindful of the different examinations of Red and the experts’ opinions on his behaviour, but on balance accepted the defence experts’ evidence. He ruled that red be placed on the Index of Exempted Dogs be returned to Ms Kenny. The prosecution asked for costs, but these were refused by the judge.
Lynn Kenny told OUR DOGS: ‘I am just so, so happy that justice has been done. Red is a lovely dog, he’s done no wrong, his only crime is the way he looks. I’m just looking so forward to having him back home again soon. ‘Thank you to everyone for all their wonderful help in this case and to OUR DOGS for keeping these cases in the public eye.’
Mel Page, Chair of Deed Not Breed who was in court supporting Lynn Kenny and once again assisting Trevor Cooper said: ‘It’s another great day for justice and a loving family pet will soon be reunited with his owner.’