Bittersweet tears as Hero dog wins fight for survival
Tears of relief, joy and sadness ran freely at Highgate Magistrates’ court in north London as Judges agreed against the destruction of two year old Bishop, a life saving dog on Thursday 7th August. So ended an exhaustive three day long legal hearing to determine the fate of Bishop who has been held for over eight months.
Pet dog Bishop was seized as a suspected illegal ‘pit bull type’ in contravention of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (DDA) on 1st December 2007 whilst his owner was exercising him with another dog on a local green. A local police operation dubbed “Operation Cranshaw - an initiative to deal with people loitering in the streets with dogs” was underway when owner, Terrence McGirr, was approached by a police officer and a breed ID expert who, after asking a few questions, suspected Bishop may be an illegal type of dog and seized him. The situation became heated and Mr McGirr was arrested and interviewed under caution for being in possession of a dog prohibited under the DDA, he was released on bail however Bishop was detained and sent to secret kennels to await the outcome of the case.
Prior to his seizure, Bishop had woke his owners when fire erupted in their flat, all had been forced to move out and since then, he had become known locally as ‘Hero Bishop’, the community had staged their own protest which was reported in the local press on 24th April; children, parents and dogs had all gathered with banners pleading for Bishop to be allowed home. As a result the owners where contacted by another dog owner who had already been through this situation with the support of the organisation Endangered Dogs Defence and Rescue. Frantic for help, Sarah Goss contacted an EDDR helpline in an effort to get things moving Bishop had been registered with the local RSPCA veterinary clinic who had examined him and recorded lameness in both back legs due to patella luxation, one leg had received surgery on the 9th October. During a post operative visit on 20th October, a further one months rest had been advised with a slow build up to learn to walk again. Bishop had been crying in pain and his other leg was being monitored for the same condition, but six weeks later he had been seized, separated from his owners and held is an alien kennel environment. As time progressed Terrence McGirr and partner Sarah Goss became increasingly frustrated and concerned as they felt unsure whether this information had been received by the kennels or police appointed vet and didn’t know whether Bishop’s legs were being monitored or if treatment was needed. EDDR put the family in contact with DDA experienced solicitor Tina Haye and organised copies of Bishop’s medical records as a priority, the solicitor then conveyed Bishops medical needs to the police who were responsive and looked into the situation, a subsequent examination brought some relief to Bishop’s anxious owners.
The solicitor then organised assessment and identification of Bishop; an expert examined him and believed he was not a type of dog known as a pit bull terrier and therefore should not be covered by section one of the legislation.
On 19th June Bishop’s family attended their first full day in court. The prosecution witnesses took the stand and agreed that Bishop did not fit the standard for an American Pit Bull Terrier well; however they stated “while he is not the perfect example (of a pit bull) nevertheless, he is one”. As the hours passed it was clear that further court time would be needed in order to hear the experts for the defence; a heartbroken Terrance ran from the courtroom in tears when he realised his dog would spend even longer in kennels.
During the second hearing arranged on 31st July, the defence put forward their argument that Bishop was in fact an innocent mongrel. As the defence and prosecution experts argued over the various points of conformation, time ran out again and another hearing was scheduled for the closing summaries and verdict.
On 7th August the family gathered for the final time in their struggle to save Bishop’s life. The closing speeches were given and although the anatomical measurements where argued forcefully the one thing all sides and experts agreed on was that this dog was a friendly, loving family pet. The judges retired to consider their verdict whilst Bishop’s family waited with baited breath knowing that the court may order that young Bishop, who had saved his owner’s life, should die. One and a half hours later the court convened and the verdict was given.
Bishop was found to be a dog that had a substantial number of characteristics of a pit bull type. The Judges went on to state that despite this they did not believe Bishop posed any danger to the public and ordered that he be registered and entered onto the Index of Exempted dogs. The owner was ordered to pay £375 in court fines and costs.
During the legal hearing the prosecution had made an allegation of “bad character” against Dr Mugford, expert witness for the defence. They claimed footage of him during an Irish documentary proved this. The full unedited footage was viewed during the trial and the Judges found Dr. Mugford to be an expert and unbiased stating that they “paid no regard” to the footage and the “bad character” application.