For those concerned about my comment that I had remained in the background on this up 'till now: I was working along with Victoria for about a year. We presented me as an independent, unallied and qualified expert to come re-evaluate Lennox. I kept my prior comments on this blog thoughtful and low key in order to try and be able to do what I do-give a fair, balanced, and professional assessment. Making a public fuss, even though I already had my reservations, would not have helped to gain the possible access we sought. And in all honesty (which was expressed to the parties in charge), if I had gone to NI and evaluated Lennox and found him dangerous, I would have publicly said so! Now I am able, since there is no longer a chance of coming in from "outside" as a non-threatening presence, to put my feelings and the story of my/our efforts out there. My prior reticence was in Lennox' interest; too much said too soon without full access and information would have done nothing to help. Please know that, out of the public spotlight, I have been eager, ready and willing to step in at any point and bring my professional experience to bear. Believe me when I tell you that I am sick thinking that, just maybe, if I had gone sooner.....and then, as we all do, I guess myself into a corner. The BCC has had the controls the entire time. We can only know go forward and try to keep this from happening again.
First warning: This is going to be a long one. Grab a drink and settle back-we have some talking to do.
From the beginning of my involvement with the Lennox case (which dates back almost a year to when Victoria Stilwell brought me in) I have stayed as neutral and professional as possible. I have resisted criticising the BCC and their evaluator, as we were trying to get me to Northern Ireland and get access to Lennox to give a fair, objective, and behaviorally sound evaluation. Sarah Fisher had done a great job, but I brought extensive "Pit Bull" experience coupled with unparalleled experience with "killer dogs" (dogs that have taken human lives). So I kept my opinion considered and low key, hoping that I could have come in as an "outside" expert, supplemented Victoria and Sarah's efforts, and gotten the BCC to listen. Now that Lennox is dead and the case is over, I no longer have to hold my tongue.
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.
In fact, 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. Wouldn't a conformation expert such as a show judge have been a better choice if we were going to see if a dog physically met a breed standard?
Sarah Fisher, a bona-fide behaviorist, issued her opinion as to Lennox' safe demeanor, but her opinion was spurned. One suspects that the BCC had issues with the opinion of a "mere woman" despite her clear qualifications.
So another outside evaluator, with credentials, was brought in by the Barnes family, this time a man. David Ryans conducted a second evaluation, and was also rejected by the BCC. Rumor had it at the time that they did not consider Ryans experienced enough with prohibited breeds.
All that said, I have looked carefully at the video of Mr. Ryans, and would like to walk you all through what I see.
The video I am referring to is posted online here: http://lennoxsandielightfoot.blogspot.com/2012/07/video-of-sandie-lightfoot-and-belfast.html The times given refer to the times listed on the running video.
The test starts with Lennox on leash, held by a female Animal Control person, with both the Animal Control person and David Ryans (presumably a stranger to Lennox), a behaviorist, seated in chairs. Lennox is being petted by the female. Lennox is seated and seems to be relaxed.
As Mr. Ryans is placing a notebook into a bag at his side, Lennox approaches under Mr. Ryans' leg to see what he is doing. He shows no fear or reticence towards Ryans, just mild interest in the bag. Ryans places his open hand directly on Lennox snout to pet him and guide him back from under Ryans' legs.
Lennox returns to the seated female and seeks her attention (about 32 seconds in). Mr. Ryans then proffers a treat repeatedly to Lennox, extending it and then removing it from Lennox' reach. Lennox is focused on the treat, but allows Ryans to take the treat back repeatedly with no sign of possession aggression or reluctance. Lennox never snaps, lunges, or does anything other than wait for Ryans to surrender the treat. Lennox does, for a moment, try to get up and approach Ryans and the treat, but immediately returns to a sit when asked. Lennox' responses are positive and he readily seeks appropriate, positive contact with Ryans' Lennox does briefly try to get in Ryans' lap, but responds immediately when asked to get off. Ryans appears to "pop" Lennox on the snout several times with an open hand (about 1:27) to elicit a response. Lennox briefly and calmly retreats, but continues to try and make positive contact with Ryans with no defensive or aggressive display.
Ryans then stands up. Lennox continues to make appropriate positive contact, and shows no negative response to Ryans despite his looming stance over Lennox. Lennox watches as Ryans turns away and reaches for more treats. Lennox makes no attempt to go after Ryans while his back is turned.
Lennox then allows Ryans to approach frontally and back him up, almost to the wall, with Ryans maintaining a tall, directly frontal stance. Lennox sits attentively. Ryans then challenges Lennox with a direct, frontal stare. Lennox responds peacefully, turning his head, and remains calm, retreating briefly and returning to the handler, then partially turning away to defuse the challenge of Ryan's. At no time did Lennox show even the most remote aggressive response to this stranger, Mr. Ryans.
Now, please compare my notes here to an evaluation I conducted regarding a frankly aggressive animal we will call "JoJo" (not his name). Remember-these following notes are an aggressive dog, NOT Lennox!
"JoJo did not allow me to make direct contact. JoJo is very suspicious of others. When he was out XXX was holding him. JoJo was tense and alert. JoJo reacted violently to sustained eye contact, in full lunge and attack mode, teeth bared and barking/growling strongly. Once JoJo reacted to me he kept a very wary eye on me and did not relax. WARNING: JOJO HAS DISPLAYED HUMAN FOCUS AGGRESSION. JOJO MAY BE A THREAT TO HUMANS. JOJO IS A HIGH LIABILITY DOG. Humane containment and management is the best strategy for him."
Does this look a little different from the objective appraisal of Lennox? I certainly think so."JoJo" was clearly an aggressive dog, and reading my assessment of Lennox, or watching the video, shows the reality of Lennox' interaction with Mr. Ryans-completely non-aggressive.
For those wanting to see the evaluation of another dog accused of aggression that turned out NOT to be an aggressive dog, please watch the following: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHdpQP76WKs
You will see that this evaluation is far more extensive, and is conducted with this "killer" dog unrestrained. Helo's evaluation included substantial direct contact between me and the dog, and let me see far more of Helo's true behavior. Mr. Ryan was operating under the constraints imposed by the BCC. I will bet that the BCC evaluator never interacted freely with Lennox. I also suspect that the BCC evaluator never grabbed Lennox by the face, never met his gaze eye-to-eye, never tried to take a food bowl away-in fact, I would guess that their evaluator's whole opinion was derived from a closely limited situation like they imposed on Mr. Ryan. That is not a fair or appropriate evaluation.
The evaluation for that dog, Helo, is summarized here:
"I first observed Helo inhis kennel. He came to the front of thekennel as I passed and was alert and quiet. I then proceeded to the fenced play area at the facility and had Helobrought out to me to interact and greet off leash. Helo greeted me readily and appropriately,sniffing and alert. He approached headup, with no show of shyness or aggression. He readily sought contact but was also interested in checking out theimmediate area.
Helo readily allowed me topet him, and then allowed ready manipulation of his head, ears, mouth, andtail. He allowed me to manipulate hisrear feet, but was sensitive to handling of his front legs, consistent with theexpected behavior of an animal that has recently received a leg injury. His right front leg still showed visibleswelling. I grasped Helo by the sides ofhis face and, at close range, met his gaze directly. Helo broke eye contact first and did notgrowl, stiffen his posture, or show any typical signs of stress oraggression. Helo repeatedly allowed meto grab his collar, stand over him, and examine his bite and teeth formeasurements. I conducted a “squeezetest” wherein the tester grabs handfuls of fur and skin and gently squeezes todetermine the tested dog’s reactions. Helo did turn his head towards my hand as I proceeded down his body, butdid not open his mouth, snap, nip, or muzzle-punch in reaction. His body posture remained neutral during thistest.
I offered Helo high-valuetreats (Pupperoni) and he took them readily. Helo allowed me to proffer the treats and then remove them from his bitewith no resistance or attempt to guard or protect the treats. I also gave Helo a bowl of food (he had notreceived his morning feeding yet) and he allowed me to present and remove thefood repeatedly. Helo allowed me tomanipulate his face while eating, and only gave a minimal grumble when Iphysically placed my hand into the kibble he was eating while he ate.
Helo is fairly wellbehaved, sitting on command fairly often (approximately 70%) and has a lesserresponse to being called (about 30%).
Helo exhibited nosensitivity to loud noises or strange objects."
Note that my written evaluations of Lennox, "JoJo", and Helo never use language such as "the most dangerous dog I have ever seen" or any of the other nonsense that the BCC's evaluator has used. Such emotional language has no place in a behavioral assessment. My evaluations never mention the dogs' appearance, as physical appearance has absolutely no bearing on behavior. In fact, "JoJo" wasn't even a breed banned in the UK. Neither was Helo.
Lennox certainly got short shrift in this incident. 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 off 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.
I am so sorry Lennox. We tried to get you a fair shot. I just hope your death serves to be the seed for change, and that your sacrifice motivates others to fight unfair laws based in ignorance and hate.