An owner of a dog which was threatened with death has spoken of his relief after a judge on Tuesday confirmed the creature will be spared.
However, 33-year-old student Leonard Collins also said that the law which allowed the authorities to seize his pet Hank should now be changed.
The two-year-old animal was retrieved from a facility at a north Belfast industrial estate at 4pm on Tuesday following a court order granting him his freedom – along with roughly 160 toys which the public had sent him.
Hank was seized from his home on July 14 by police officers and dog wardens, after being alerted to a claim that he was a pit bull – a breed which is considered dangerous under the law.
Examinations carried out by a breed expert confirmed Hank to be a pit bull terrier-type, a judge was told.
The seizure provoked massive public support for the dog and his owners, with a petition of 285,000 signatures demanding his release and a fighting fund of roughly £19,000 raised to help pay for an anticipated legal battle.
In court a lawyer for Belfast City Council, which had previously assessed him, applied to the court to have Hank spared from the requirement for destruction.
The court was told that a behaviourist had found him to be “boisterous”, but suitable for the exemption register under the Dangerous Dogs Order.
Hank has already been micro-chipped and neutered, and must also now be insured.
Supporters in the public gallery cheered and applauded after District Judge Ken Nixon agreed to make the order to release Hank.
After the hearing at Belfast Magistrates’ Court, Mr Collins (joint owner of the dog along with Joanne Meadows) said: “I’m just so relieved, it’s been a hard few weeks full of stress.”
He added: “We still don’t believe he’s a pit bull, but in order for us to get him home we have to accept the council’s exemption order.”
Mr Collins also vowed to continue with a challenge to the legislation that led to his pet being seized.
“We are less than happy with the legislation,” he said.
“As far as we know the council are not happy with it, politicians are not happy with it, the public are not happy with it. Something needs to change.”
A rally organised by Hank’s owners against dangerous dogs legislation is set to go ahead at Stormont at 1pm on Sunday August 14, according to the Facebook group ‘Northern Ireland says “NO” to Animal Cruelty’.
According to Belfast City Council, 12 of 13 dogs assessed by the council to be pit bulls since 2011 had been exempted and returned to their owners.
In 2012 a pet called Lennox was put down after the council determined it was a pit bull.