The Truth about Lennox

Please read this statement from Victoria Stillwell on <a href="http://www.positively.com" rel="nofollow">www.positively.com&lt;/a&gt; after leaked videos from the assessments filmed by the council and not available to the public were leaked onto a facebook page in order to justify the Judges decision. It has backfired, as you can see after reading Victoria’s rebuttal to claims against her reputation one can only be more certain that a miscarriage of justice has occured and politics, prejudice and ignorance has won over truth.

“Today people all over the world will be lighting candles in honor of Lennox, who, if the courts have their way, will be put to death in less than a week by Belfast City Council. I have become personally involved in this case, both as an expert and as an advocate for decency and humanity. Certain individuals and organizations have been engaged in a last desperate attempt to refute the evidence given by experts, who actually met and evaluated Lennox, and myself, who viewed all the footage of these assessments. I have been informed that a tiny part of David Ryan’s assessment where Lennox reacted to feeling threatened has now been taken out of context and released by itself as ’evidence’ that Lennox is a dangerous dog. I will explain Lennox’s behavior at that point in a moment, but what I want to stress is what is NOT shown, which is the rest of David Ryan’s hour long evaluation where Lennox allows a complete male stranger, David Ryan, to handle him, tease him, walk him, sit by him, lead him and touch him without any negative reaction whatsoever. In fact during this time Lennox was giving all kinds of pacification signals, choosing to turn away from David when he felt uncomfortable, rather than bite, maul or attack him. There has been so much misinformation and ignorance surrounding this case from the start, because unless you fully understand dog communication and signals it is easy to miss, as all of these people have, everything that Lennox is trying to communicate.

In my official report I stated: ‘Lennox showed a number of deference behaviours including turning his head away, licking his lips, turning his body and walking away, in response to David Ryan’s attempts to frustrate him. This is an impressive trait in any dog and shows a dog using submissive behaviour rather than offensive behaviour to cope in what is a relatively stressful situation.’

At one point Lennox lunged at David Ryan, the piece of video that has been released in a sad attempt, by those against Lennox and the campaign to free him, to show what a dangerous dog he is. This has in actual fact back-fired, because now it gives me no choice but to comment, as an expert with fifteen years experience of canine behavior and ten years of working with all breeds including pit bull types in the United States, on that particular reaction, that I included in my statement to the courts.

My report continued: ‘If a dog, that would rather practice avoidance and take himself away from threat, is unable to do so and the threat comes closer and does not allow the dog any chance to escape, the dog has no other choice but to respond defensively. Lennox reacted defensively when David Ryan approached him and Lennox was stuck between two chairs and the wall with nowhere to go to. He tried to get away but when this failed he lunged defensively at David Ryan. Even though this was a defensive gesture, Lennox still showed incredible impulse control and bite inhibition. A dog is faster than the fastest Olympic athlete when it comes to response time. If Lennox intended to harm David Ryan he could have easily bitten him while he lunged, before Mr. Ryan had time to react, but Lennox chose to warn him (a complete stranger) out of his space instead, rather than inflict harm, and this was impressive to see…… Lennox showed impressive restraint and lunged at David Ryan with the intent to warn him to go away from him, without harming him. ‘

You see, this is essentially what people do not understand. Behind every growl, snap, lunge etc is a dog signalling its intent. The intent is to warn someone or something out of its space. Aggression serves an important function, to increase distance, to get the threat to move away. Some dogs, especially those that have been dominated, suppressed or abused by a human, learn by that mishandling to not give these warning signals and suppress these signals, going straight to bite. These dogs are made dangerous because of what humans teach them in their attempt to curb unwanted behavior. The dogs that warn instead of going to bite are less dangerous because they are signaling their intent first. If this warning is not heeded, they will lunge or try another way of getting that someone to move away from them, still without intent to harm. This is what Lennox had no choice but to do. Believe me, he could have inflicted a lot of harm on David if he was truly the dangerous dog that some people believe he is and instead Lennox chose not to bite, maul, attack or inflict damage in any way, shape or form. He lunged and barked at David instead. When that was done, Lennox continued to show many appeasement and pacification signals as well as signaling his stress, such as lip licking and turning his head and body away.

I also witnessed Sarah Fisher’s assessment on Lennox and, again, most of her assessment won’t be shown because the world would then see how impressive Lennox was with yet another complete stranger handling him. At one point Lennox started playing with the leash, something that many bored dogs do, regardless of breed. At no point did he threaten Sarah, try to bite her or become aggressively aroused when she pulled the leash away from him and he released the leash when he was asked to. The prosecution’s ‘expert’, Peter Tallack, a police dog handler, was apparently dismissive of the majority of Fisher’s report, saying that she did not ‘challenge’ the dog enough and was more focused on building a rapport with the dog. In his ruling, the judge in this case showed yet another flaw in the execution of BSL, in that he clearly is not aware of the basics of dog behavior and basically decided to believe that Tallack’s confrontational approach rather than Fisher’s experienced and scientificially-based methodology was more influential in his decision-making.

The judge basically had a choice to make: do I believe the police dog handler on the payroll of the state as a government employee, or a learned and internationally respected dog behaviorist with extensive experience regarding dog aggression. He apparently fixated on the fact that due to Britain’s BSL laws, she had little experience working with actual pit bull type dogs, finding that to be a major flaw in her credibility and authority. Yet again, this shows an ignorance at the heart of the problems with BSL: to conduct a behavioral assessment of a pit bull type dog does not require any special training or experience other than what would be required for any other breed of dog. Yes, they are a strong breed, but I have no doubt that Fisher has worked with countless larger dogs, including other bully breeds types, capable of inflicting as much or more harm than the strongest pit bull could.

The judge based his decision that Lennox was a threat to society on stereotypes, misleading ‘expert’ reports, and his own apparent distrust of strong dogs. In his ruling, Judge Rodgers repeatedly refers to an episode where Lennox jumped up on and knocked back the dog warden who came to confiscate him. Court records indicate that two other animal control employees witnessed this. Even though the actual behavioral cause and effect of such an action can almost always be successfully and appropriately explained, the main point here is that a person such as Judge Rodgers, who is unqualified to analyze dog behavior, can easily and mistakenly draw incorrect conclusions regarding the severity, motivation for and circumstances surrounding such behavior. If all dogs who jump up on strangers in their house were guilty of being dangerous dogs, there would not be many dogs left in homes. To fixate on this occurrence and point to it as further proof of Lennox’s dangerousness is reckless and misguided.

Every person can form and will form an opinion on a snapshot of behaviour they see, taken out of context and misunderstood by ignorance. Both David Ryan and Sarah Fisher have stated that Lennox is not a dangerous dog and I will stand by their cumulative years of expertise in the field of canine behavior, rather than listen to those who, through no fault of their own, cannot read or misunderstand canine ‘language.’

In the 18 months since Lennox was taken from his family and put in a stressful environment and situation away from those he trusted and loved most, he has been a pawn in a political game that serves to take a flawed piece of legislation, such as BSL, to an all time disgraceful level. BSL makes innocent dogs the criminals because of how they look, regardless of their actual temperament. Your money, taxpayers’ money, is being spent by councils to seek out and confiscate these breed types, taking innocent family members away from their families, rather than tackling the real issue of dangerous dogs. If Belfast City Council and other governments like it really want to keep a community safe, go after the irresponsible owners who either raise their dogs in a violent manner, do not socialize them or integrate them into society in any way, allow their dogs to wander off leash and do not heed any warning signs or make any attempt to curb aggressive behavior. Seek to penalize them to the full extent of the law, and protect your citizens by addressing the issue of dangerous dogs of all breeds, not spending your tax payers’ money on taking innocent dogs away from their families because of the way they look.

There are two sides to any story and there are always things that are said out of sadness, anger, frustration and pain. I do not condone violence or threatening behavior of any sort to any persons involved in this case. But whatever continues in the human battle over this issue, my frustration lies with the fact that regardless what has been said, the true experts’ opinions in Lennox’s case have been thrown over for behavioral opinions that were given by the prosecution’s expert Peter Tallack, even though he stated himself that he was not brought on to do a ‘behavioural test or assessment’ of Lennox, but to assess only whether Lennox was of pit bull type or not. He himself admitted that the ‘circumstances in which Lennox is being examined are not ideal’ and in this he was absolutely right. Even if he was brought onto do a behavioral assessment, you cannot do a proper assessment or get a true picture of behavior of any dog in or around the vicinity of the kennel where that dog is being confined and where it is experiencing fear, stress and confusion. To get a true picture of behavior tests should be done in all different environments and situations including confined spaces, the home environment, and other indoor and outdoor locations, on and off leash and different times of the day. As he stated, his examination was ‘90% physical conformation and only 10% behavioural’ and therefore his findings were, ‘based on how Lennox looks and not how he behaves,’ yet his statements on Lennox’s behavior under thephysical examination he was supposed to be conducting, were upheld and championed as key components of the judge’s decision to euthanize Lennox. I agree with those who say that you cannot predict future behavior in any animal just as you cannot predict it in any human. The judge also fixated on the concept that the dog is unpredictable. What dog isn’t? What animal isn’t unpredictable? If a dog is truly dangerous then I want that dog off the streets as much as the next person, but Lennox has been so unfairly treated in this case because of the situation that he was taken, the stress he has had to endure since his confinement and now the cruelty of those who seek to destroy him and his family with malicious particularly over social media, that someone needs to highlight the fact that from the start, Lennox was never given a fair chance. This case was decided the day Lennox was taken from his family in May 2010.

I myself have been threatened in different ways by supporting Lennox and his family, but that is what fear does. In order to hide the truth and serve a purpose, people will use intimidation tactics to scare others away, in an attempt to stop the truth from coming out. To the few that use threats against me and others, there are millions of people around the world singing with one voice. I am not alone, but am supported by those millions that are sick of seeing these witch hunts take place, when the real issue of dangerous dogs is not being addressed and people are still getting hurt or losing their lives to dog attacks because of irresponsible ownership. BSL tackles the wrong end of the leash and we should be putting our efforts into stopping future attacks by actual dangerous dogs, rather than putting the focus on taking animals away from their families because of the way they look.

Lennox is scheduled to be euthanized in a few days. Chances for overturning the verdict are slim, and having read the judge’s official opinion in the case, I hold very little hope that he will recognize he has let his personal feelings about this issue cloud his decision-making process. He has chosen to rely on people unqualified to correctly assess and describe the true nature of certain events relating to dog behavior. We will campaign for justice throughout Lennox’s life and beyond. We must learn from this and make Lennox and his family’s struggle a rallying cry for change."

UPDATE Sarah Fisher to issue statement about Lennox after edited clips of her assessment filmed by council wardens of Lennox posted onto Facebook.

Statement on Lennox by Sarah Fisher
It has been brought to my attention that a small clip of my assessment of Lennox has been put on the
internet. This clip has been taken completely out of context and whilst I have remained relatively
quiet on this case since I spoke in court, I feel that I am now forced to make a statement to clarify
what actually happened during the time I was with Lennox.
Wrongly or rightly many documents and details about this case have been passed onto different
parties. I do not feel it is appropriate for me at this moment to discuss in detail everything that has
been said to me, nor to put forward my own ideas regarding all the statements made, as everyone is
entitled to their own opinion and beliefs. What I am qualified to do however is to discuss behaviour.
My assessments, statements and videos of those assessments have been accepted in other court cases
at Magistrates, County and Crown Courts here in the UK so the field of assessment in cases such as
this is not unknown to me.
I do not care if I am to be criticized by members of the public or even other professional bodies as I
have a wealth of experience handling and working with many breeds of dogs, large and small and I
also work with horses with behavioural issues so do not need to defend the claims that I have little or
no experience of working with powerful animals such as Pit Bull Types. I would however like to
clarify that a Pit Bull Type is often a mix of dogs. Nothing extraordinary happens to the psyche of a
dog when it conforms to certain measurements.
I do care however that Lennox is being portrayed in a poor light through this video clip as my
experience of handling Lennox was thoroughly enjoyable and I now feel the need to explain in greater
detail the truth, as I see it, about my assessment. I know that Victoria Stilwell has been what I would
consider to be a sane voice amidst the madness that surrounds this case and she has seen full video
footage of the assessments carried out by myself and David Ryan plus other documentation.
When the door to the van was first opened Lennox barked. He barked at me three times when I
approached. As I said in my report this is not uncommon behaviour in any dog that is in a confined
situation in a crate, kennel or in a car. He was also shaking like a leaf but this does not come over in
the video that my assistant took of this assessment. He was clearly frightened as he could not have
known what was going to happen to him and again this is not an uncommon behaviour in the dogs
that come to me for help. No one has ever disputed that Lennox can be anxious around some strangers
but I believe the key word some has sadly been overlooked.
I asked for someone that Lennox knew to take him out of the crate to keep his stress levels low. Entry
and exit points can be a source of conflict for any dog. I was told I had to handle Lennox on my own
for the entire assessment and that he had bitten the last person that came to see him. This is the clip
that has been released. Had I had any concerns for my safety or those around me given that I was to
be fully and wholly responsible for a dog that I do not know and that I had been told has bitten, I
would not have continued with the assessment if I believed that dog to be a danger either to myself or
those who were standing in the car park. Lennox gave me a lot of information about his temperament
whilst in the crate. In court however, and therefore under oath, Ms Lightfoot the Dog Warden stated
that in fact Lennox had not bitten anyone so I have to assume on the evidence placed before the court
that the statement made to me at the start of my assessment was untrue. Given the publicity
surrounding this case I am also confident that had Lennox actually bitten anyone whilst in the care of
his family as has been suggested someone would have come forward by now.
I spent approx 15 minutes with Lennox prior to being taken from the crate, working with a clicker and
some treats to see if, even in the environment that was causing him some anxiety, he could still learn
and take direction from a stranger. He could. His eyes were soft and he was friendly. At this point I
would also like to clarify the meaning of the word friendly. It does not mean confident. Was Lennox
anxious? Yes. Hostile? No.
I believe that Lennox would have been totally at ease had I indeed taken him out myself but I also
believe I have a duty of care to reduce stress where possible when handling any animal in a situation
that is causing them distress. No doubt this statement will also be taken out of context by those who
wish to discredit me and to discredit my belief that Lennox is not a danger to the public based on my
experience with him and also based on the video assessment carried out by David Ryan which I have
also seen.
I use food in an assessment to monitor the dogs stress levels and emotions at all times. It is not a
bribe. A habitually aggressive dog will generally seek out conflict in my experience but even these
dogs can often be rehabilitated. No amount of food can disguise this behaviour and giving food to a
dog with aggression issues can be extremely dangerous. The dog may be lured to a person by the
promise of food but once it has taken the food it may panic as the offering of the food has now
brought that dog into close proximity with the threat i.e. a stranger. I have worked with dogs with
aggression issues and whilst some may well take the food, the person delivering the food may not be
able to move once the food has gone as the movement of the person, even the smallest movement of
their arm, may trigger the dog to lunge and bite. I would not hand feed a dog that I deem to be
aggressive. The delivery of the treat must come from the person that the dog knows and trusts – not
the stranger. The dog can learn to approach a threat and then turn back to the person that the dog trusts
for the reward if the approach to the person is appropriate. I use food throughout an assessment to
monitor what is happening with the dog on an emotional and physical level not to make him my best
friend.
Lennox was so gentle with the taking of the food both in the crate and also later in the car park. He
was also appropriate in his behaviour with the games we played. He was also gentle when he jumped
up at me to see if he was allowed the food that I was withholding in my hand. When he realised it
wasn’t forthcoming he politely backed off. This would suggest to me that he has been around a family.
Not chained up in a yard as has also been claimed by people who do not know the family or the dog.
Lennox showed excellent impulse control at all times and at no point did he grab me or my own
clothing which many dogs do when getting excited by a game. I have worked with some truly
challenging dogs and some will become increasingly aroused by lead ragging or games with toys and
start seriously mouthing or biting the handlers arms or clothing. This can quickly flip over to more
overt aggression and these dogs can be dangerous particularly if they are being handled by just one
person. It is imperative that dogs with this behaviour are taught a more appropriate way of interacting
with people and responding to the leash and also greater self control. There are many ways to help
dogs that have been encouraged, through mishandling and misunderstanding, to behave in such a
manner. Kicking and beating them is certainly not the answer.
Lennox does rag on the lead but it is very self controlled. He did not exhibit any of the behaviours that
I have mentioned above. Regardless of what some uneducated people may wish to think, it is possible
to glean a lot of information about a dog through games and food as many behaviour counsellors and
trainers will confirm.
I wrote a fifteen page report on my experience with Lennox and my thoughts about the David Ryan
assessment. In this report I state that I have concerns about the appearance of Lennox’s neck. In the
video I explain this too. His ears are unlevel and there was a change in the lay of his coat over the
Atlas in line with the nuchal ligament that is present between T1 and C2 vertebrae. Coat changes
often occur in dogs, cats and horses that have suffered injury or those that are unwell. I have studied
this over seventeen years of handling many animals. In all cases where I referred an animal back to a
vet, whether it was in the care of a shelter, owned by my private clients or students that I teach
changes to the soft tissue or skeleton were noted on further detailed investigation. When I see this
around the neck in a dog I know that it is likely to give the dog cause for concern when someone
unknown to that dog attempts to handle the collar or put on or take off a lead. Coat changes may well
be present where deep bruising has also occurred. Pain and pain memory is a key factor in many
behavioural problems.
Lennox was quite rightly put on Amitriptyline. I do not believe that the Council have failed in their
duty to care for Lennox when it comes to the stress that he has been under and I understand that this
drug is used to treat anxiety and depression. It was with interest, though, that I discovered that this
drug is also used to treat chronic pain in dogs. Again this was mentioned in my written report. This
may explain in part why my experience with Lennox seems to fly in the face of other evidence
presented before the courts. He was not on Amitriptyline when he was assessed by David Ryan.
I would absolutely move on to touch an animal all over its body in any assessment that I do. I may or
may not choose to muzzle a dog that is unknown to me to do this if I have concerns about the body
language that I have seen prior to this part of my assessment. I elected not to stroke Lennox all over
because of my concerns about his neck, the newly forming scabs that were present on his flanks and
the blood that was present around the nail beds around his right hind foot. This decision was made
based on the physical evidence before me not because I felt I would be in danger. I talked about this
in court which was open to the public and at the end of my assessment which is also on film I
explained this to a representative from the BCC Dog Warden team and asked if there was anything
else that she would like me to do with Lennox. She said no.
I cannot comment on what happened when Lennox was seized or measured by Peter Tallack because I
wasn’t there. I can explain behaviour though and any frightened animal can be intimidating. I have
recently been in Romania working with traumatised horses and two stallions had not been mucked out
for months as the staff (men) were too scared to go in with them. They called them ‘pitbulls’ such is
the misguided impression of this type of dog. Hay had been simply thrown over the stable doors and
their water buckets were hanging crushed against the stable wall. I went in with them, not because I
have any desire to be a hero, but because I can read an animal well and within minutes they were
quiet, standing at the end of their stables albeit it pressed up against the walls. I was calm with them
and we took out all the filthy bedding and fetched new water buckets for them too. They didn’t attack
anyone. They were simply terrified and they were not provoked. I spent time with one of them on my
own, hand feeding him and was finally able to touch his face. This process probably took less than
half an hour. I was totally absorbed in what I was doing and when I turned to walk out I realised that
one of the Romanian men had been watching me. He raised his eyebrows, gave me the thumbs up and
walked away. Other people could then go in with this magnificent horse too and hand feed him the
fresh sweet grass that we had picked from the surrounding fields so it isn’t simply that I am quiet in
my handling of animals nor possess some extraordinary skill that can make even the most savage lion
behave like a lamb when in my company.
I can perhaps, help an animal that is struggling, gain trust in human beings as many people can. I can
perhaps work with a difficult animal and make it look as though that animal is calm but all the time I
am reading that animal. Every second of the way. I am looking at the eyes if it is safe to do so, I am
watching the respiration, I am studying the movement, the set of the ears and the tail and so on and
my opinions about an animal are based on many years of working in this way. One case that will
always stand out in my mind was a large member of the Bull Breed family. I believe she was two
years old. I won’t go into the details here but I will say that when I worked with her she appeared to
be very good to the member of kennel staff that was watching. At the end of my assessment the
member of staff asked me what I thought. I sadly had to say that I thought the dog should be put to
sleep. The member of staff was horrified and I remember her saying ‘but she’s been so good with
you’. But I had noticed some worrying signs. The shelter ignored my advice and rehomed the dog
who savaged the new owner so badly the owner ended up in the ICU. Of course the dog was
immediately destroyed.
I knew what I was walking into when I agreed to go and assess Lennox for the family. To have to
defend Lennox outside of the court has, however, come as a surprise. I have made this statement to
shed a little more light on what is a distressing case for all those involved, knowing full well that I
will no doubt be subject to further scrutiny and criticism. So be it. I am not afraid. If nothing else this
case has highlighted some important issues about the fears and prejudice concerning dogs, their breed
types and their behaviour. Certainly it highlights the sad truth as Xenephon said so wisely in 400 BC.
Where knowledge ends, violence begins.

Journal Comments

  • Maryann Harvey
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