Bodie is reunited with his owner Denise Evans, and her husband Stephen
and one of their youngest children.
LAST MONTH, one of the sixteen dogs seized and tried as a pit bull ‘type’ under Merseyside’s ill-considered ‘dangerous dogs amnesty’ returned home. Bodie, a four year-old Stafford cross, owned by Denise Evans was found technically ‘guilty’ during the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act trial at Merseyside Magistrates’ Court.
Bodie was allowed to be registered on the Index of Exempted Breeds and then, following neutering, tattooing and microchipping, to be allowed home to Denise and her family, thus ending several weeks of heartache and uncertainty for the whole family.
Denise bought Bodie when he was five weeks old as a so-called ‘Irish Staffordshire Bull Terrier’ and was even given ‘pedigree’ papers for him as such. However, the so-called ‘Irish Staff’ is often used as a code word for Pit Bull Terriers of Pit Bull crosses and this simple wording could have literally signed Bodie’s death warrant four years later.
Denise Evans takes up the story: ‘On the 6th February I telephoned my vets as I was concerned regarding the pending Merseyside dog amnesty which was starting the next day. I had seen the dogs which were seized after the dreadful killing of little Ellie Lawrenson and was shocked that they had resembled my own much-loved pet Bodie. I asked my vet if I had anything to worry about and asked whether Irish Staffordshire Bull Terriers were on the dangerous dogs list? The lady said that she didn't think so but advised me to contact the police for help.
‘I must stress that I have never been concerned about Bodies’ behaviour, on the contrary, but I didn't want to be approached by the police while walking him and wanted reassurance that this wouldn't happen. Looking back, how naive was I?
‘I telephoned the police, and was told that Irish Staffs were not on the banned dog list, but there were ‘some concerns’ with the breed, and that officers would call out to assess our dog.’
That evening the police contacted Denise, saying they had a van in her area and asked whether they could they call in to see Bodie at that time. Denise said yes, and a short while later two police officers arrived.
‘They came into the living room where my husband Stephen, 15 year old son, 13 year old daughter, two year old son and myself were,’ says Denise. ‘Bodie was wagging his tail, but seemed to be a little nervous.’
The police officers immediately said ‘He's pit bull type, we will have to take him.’
Denise says: ‘My blood ran cold, my heart sank, I said, " What do you mean, we have papers for him, he's an Irish Staffordshire Bull Terrier!" They looked at the papers and said that they meant nothing, and there was no such breed as an Irish Staffordshire Bull Terrier. They called for another dog handler to attend who was apparently a ‘breed identification expert’.
The next week was, says Denise, ‘a blur’. The family had no idea where to turn for help, but a ray of hope appeared when Denise’s sister-in-law mentioned a woman named Mel Page from the newly-formed anti-Breed Specific Legislation association called Deed Not Breed. Denise contacted Mel Page and immediately realised that there was hope to save Bodie’s life.
‘She was a lifeline, someone who listened, who understood, who knew what to say to make us feel better. Even though she didn't know Bodie, she really cared about him, this meant so much to us.’
Denise describes herself as a usually shy person, but during the first week after Bodie’s seizure and with DNB’s urging, she appeared in the Liverpool Echo newspaper and on Saturday nights Granada News on TV, talking about the unfairness of the DDA and of the amnesty itself.
Over the next few weeks, Denise and Stephen kept in contact with Mel and attended a meeting arranged by Deed Not Breed where other affected owners were in attendance. Friendships were formed and all the owners pledged to stick together in their fight to save their pets. Discussions were held about the forthcoming court appearance for the dogs and how well-known dog defenders, solicitor Trevor Cooper and barrister Pam Rose were liasing with the owners via DNB.
Eventually the crucial day of the trial came around. Denise and Stephen left for court, ccompanied by Lynn Fleet, Bodie’s dog trainer, their niece Alison and her husband Robbie.
Denise says: ‘When we arrived we were told that we were in court number 4 on the first floor. Simply entering the court was very daunting to me as this was the first time that I had ever been inside a court. We went upstairs and met some of the other owners; we knew that we had to find Pam Rose the barrister. She already had our paper work but we needed to speak to her.’
Juliette and John Glass of the Fury Defence Fund were assisting Pam Rose and talked Denise and Stephen through their official paperwork before she spoke with Ms Rose.
‘We were told that we were the first case to be heard, and that court would start at 10 O'clock. Pam arrived just before 10:00, and was bombarded by everyone,’ recalls Denise. ‘We went into the courtroom at 10:30 and Pam asked the judge for time to speak to people, the judge allowed her an hour, and asked that she be given some evidence to read when it became available.
‘This hour was so hectic, everyone wanted to speak to Pam. As we were the first case to be heard I thought that Pam would want to pass our folder of evidence to the judge first, but she was inundated with owners, there were 14 other cases besides ours, and she wouldn't pass the folder without checking it. Pam ended up representing all but one of the people in court on that day!’
Finally Denise and Stephen were able to state their case in court, only to hear the judge adjourn the cases were a to the following day.
On Wednesday, February 28th they returned to hear the judge’s decision. At approximately 4pm Judge Miriam Shilvey made the announcement that all 14 dogs were going to be allowed to live. All the dogs could be listed on the Index of Exempted Breeds as they were not deemed to be a danger.
Denise smiles when she recalls the scene: ‘The courtroom erupted with cheers. I burst into tears of relief and the judge got a standing ovation as she left the courtroom.
Our baby was coming home! I rang Mel from the court who also burst into tears and we raced home to tell the children the wonderful news.
‘During the weeks that followed we had to apply for insurance and wait for Bodie to be tattooed with the special number exempt dogs are given.’
The family had expected to have Bodie home within a couple of weeks of the hearing but on 16th March they received the worrying news that there had been an outbreak of parvo in the kennels where Bodie had been staying. The police assured us them he was well but that a number of other dogs had died. They were told that Bodie and other dogs had been moved to another kennels and had been given medication and vaccinations against parvo.
Denise adds: ‘Bodie was already vaccinated so we didn't understand why he couldn't just come home. It was heartbreaking to know that other people’s pets had died from a disease that should never have been allowed to spread through the kennels. Our dog was safe but our thoughts went out to those who had lost their pets in this terrible way.
‘A few days later we were told that Bodie would be tattooed the following week and could come home, but we'd been told so many times that this was being done we just didn't want to get our hopes up. Even though we'd been assured he was okay we couldn't help wondering if he was in fact one of the dogs who'd died, why else were we still waiting?
‘Finally on Friday 23rd March I got the call to say Bodie was coming home later that day.
Stephen and I decided not to tell the children in case there was another delay but sure enough, at about 6pm the police brought him home.
‘I can't describe the feelings we had when we first saw Bodie coming down the path. After seven weeks of living on an emotional roller coaster our baby was finally back. I was elated but felt sick, what if he didn't know us? What if his personality had changed? I had no need to worry.
‘Bodie was so excited to see us he didn't know who to run to first. He'd lost some weight and had kennel cough and he'd got a few sore patches where he'd been sleeping on a rough bed but he was essentially the same Bodie. Within a couple of hours he'd had a bath, some dinner and was lying on the sofa playing with a new toy.’
Just over two weeks have gone by and the family’s lives are almost back to normal. They have to keep Bodie muzzled and on a lead in public which, according to Denise, he hates, but he is getting used to it slowly.
Denise adds: ‘Apart from that we're the same happy family we always used to be. I'm still in touch with Mel and we speak almost daily. We've become great friends over the weeks and I know that if I have any worries, or just want to chat, she's there at the end of the phone.
‘I'm also in touch with some of the other owners. We've been through so much together and have formed some very strong bonds. Hopefully when they all get their dogs home we'll meet up for some long walks.’
In conclusion, Denise has some very strong views on her experience and that of other owners and has some clear ideas of how other owners could be spared the same horrendous ordeal:
‘I'd like to see the register re-opened for people like us. We didn’t know we were buying illegal dogs, we just bought them as pets and that’s all they ever have been, loving loyal family pets.
‘To have a member of your family taken from you and to have to go to court to fight for his life isn't something I'd ever want to go through again. It's a living hell.
‘Opening the register would enable responsible pet owners like us to have their dogs put on the exempt list. No one should have to go through what we've suffered just because our dog looks the way he does.
‘My dog now has to spend his life muzzled for doing nothing wrong, yet the only way to keep him alive was to agree to that. Give others the chance to do the same whilst organisations like Deed Not Breed fight to get the law changed to something workable.
‘I'd like to thank my family, Deed Not Breed, the Fury Defence Fund, Pam Rose and Trevor Cooper for all their help and support during the last few weeks. Without them I wouldn't have known where to turn. At last my baby is home where he belongs.’