As more details emerge in the case of Lennox, the Labrador/Bulldog euthanized last Wednesday by Belfast City Council (BCC), Victoria Stilwell, star of "It's Me or the Dog," claims she has been both threatened and sued by members of BCC.
Stilwell made the astonishing claims today on her Facebook page in an open letter to the public. The post, in which she commented that she now wished to answer what she had so far been reticent on, said, "yes, the BCC's 'expert' did try to sue me for speaking out against him and questioning his credentials, and yes he did expect money from me to settle the dispute."
The latest allegations are another blow for Northern Ireland's Belfast City Council, who had hoped that after euthanizing Lennox for being a "pit-bull type" dog, the entire affair would quietly go away. Not so. After BCC announced that it had carried out the destruction order on the dog, Stilwell spoke out against their heartless handling of the case and demanded answers.
For more than two years, the Barnes family who owned Lennox, pursued all legal avenues to bring their dog home after he was seized by the BCC in May 2010. But by mid-June, a final court ruling upheld the decision of two lower courts who ordered Lennox to be destroyed under the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA). Lennox was destroyed on July 11, despite a massive campaign to free the dog and re-home him in the USA. The ultimate blow for the Barnes family came when BCC denied access to his body, and his collar, which the Barnes' daughter Brooke, had wanted for a keepsake.
The BCC's expert who had testified against Lennox, was Peter Tallack, a former police dog handler. Stilwell said that in his quest to sue her, "he was not successful because all I did was speak the truth." But, Stilwell added, "these are the kind of people that the family, myself and all those who have supported Lennox, have been up against."
Stilwell also refused to condone "the threats and intimidation being done to anyone on either side" and appealed for them to stop. "You are not helping matters," Stilwell said, but added that people needed to be aware "that those of us who have supported Lennox and the family themselves have also received threats, some from the very people that BCC employ."
Stilwell's astonishing claims followed on the heels of a report by James W. Crosby, CBCC-KA, a retired Police Lieutenant (Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Jacksonville, FL), former Animal Control Division Manager and professional dog trainer. One of Crosby's roles is assessing canines that are "killer dogs." Dogs who have actually killed people.
So far Crosby said, he had remained silent on the issue, but "Now that Lennox is dead and the case is over, I no longer have to hold my tongue," he added. Crosby then proceeded to rip into the qualifications of BCC's expert witness:
Let's look at the "qualifications" of the only evaluation that the BCC or Court accepted. The BCC "evaluator" is, admittedly, a former police Constable. So am I, except that instead of being a Constable, the equivalent here in the US to a base Patrolman, I retired as a Lieutenant and Watch Commander, the UK equivalent of a full Inspector with the Metropolitan Police.
I am also a certified Behavior Consultant (he has no such training), have been certified as a Professional Dog Trainer, and am trained and certified as a behavior evaluator by several organizations-and he is not. I have further, over the years, worked with, trained, and evaluated what are probably over a thousand Pit Bulls and other breeds prohibited in the UK, certainly more than the BCC evaluator.
When Lennox was assessed by Tallack, he was deemed a pit bull type based on measurements taken with a tape measure. But said Crosby, "their evaluator, who's evaluation history seems to be summed up by "knows a Pit Bull when he is paid to find one" isn't even a dog show judge," Crosby said. "Surely a "conformation expert such as a show judge" he added, would "have been a better choice if we were going to see if a dog physically met a breed standard?"
Crosby then studies and breaks down the video of Lennox's assessment by independent dog behaviorist David Ryans. On the left is Ms. Lightfoot, the dog warden who testified in court that Lennox was so aggressive, she was scared to be around him. Yet she is shown sitting down, holding Lennox, and petting him, a year after he was seized.
After viewing the video, another dog behaviorist commented on Crosby's article:
I'm not sure I have ever seen someone scared of a dog start an assessment sitting down. I know I certainly start ALL of mine standing, and I especially won't sit if I know the dog had shown aggression in the past. I'll only sit in a chair if I've had a lot of positive feedback from the dog. If they were so scared of him, why didn't they show a little self preservation?
After analyzing Lennox's assessment himself, Crosby also concludes:
The evaluator that the Court relied upon is clearly unqualified to assess temperament and behavior. He doesn't even have the credentials to assess adherence to a breed standard.
And frankly, if their evaluator thinks that Lennox was the "most dangerous dog" he had ever seen-please come meet some of the guys I have handled and evaluated after they have killed humans. I have seen more dangerous Cocker Spaniels. Please, if you are to be considered a professional, try not to embarrass yourself with such twaddle.
Stilwell said that Crosby's report was "a window into how it should be done," and explained that when she received a "copy of the BCC's 'expert's' report," it was only "supposed to be an evaluation of Lennox's measurements to determine whether Lennox was of pitbull type (which is laughable in itself.)"
The last paragraph of the report Stilwell reveals, "states that even though this expert knows that he has only been brought in to measure Lennox he still offers his opinion of Lennox's behavior, which he questions. That's it - one paragraph."
The Animal Planet star, who had offered to take Lennox to the USA and pay all of the expenses incurred, also said that she has copies of the behavioral evaluation reports from both David Ryan and Sarah Fisher, two expert dog behaviorists. Both contain, Stilwell said, "pages and pages of detailed, intelligent, unbiased and thorough investigations of Lennox's behavior." But "the BCC" she added, "stand by their 'expert' and so did the courts, discrediting the evidence of two qualified behavioral experts. Is that justice? Is that fair?" the star said.
Stilwell's criticism follows on the heels of Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson, who yesterday used Twitter to condemn the decision to put Lennox to sleep writes the Irish Times. "Destroying a dog that had no history of aggression is folly and shames society," the DUP leader said. Robinson had strongly urged Belfast City Council to seriously consider the re-homing option. "Why exercise the order" he said, "if there's an alternative?"
RIP Lennox. There are several petitions against the Belfast City Council which can be viewed here.