Published Wednesday, 07 May 2014
Items seized by police during their investigation into animal cruelty. (© PSNI)
A total of five adult dogs and four puppies were taken from the Kirkwood family home at Island Street in the city in November 2011, while another dog was seized from a house at McAllister Court.
The four puppies were successfully rehomed at the direction of the USPCA and while three adult male dogs taken from Island Street were almost immediately put down as they were self-harming and aggressive, a court order was made concerning two female lurchers, and also the whippet cross Staffordshire taken from McAllister Court.
The order to destroy the two lurchers and the Staffordshire cross was made at Belfast Crown Court in March this year, when their owners appeared in the dock on charges of animal cruelty.
Jeremiah Kirkwood, 43, sons 23-year-old Christopher and 20-year-old Wayne of Island Street as well as their co-accused Jamie Morrow, 19, of McAllister Court were each sentenced to six months in custody, which was suspended for two years, after admitting various roles in a series of animal cruelty incidents including offences related to illegal animal fights.
However, a Crown application to vary the previous court order was granted on Wednesday by Judge Donna McColgan.
The application was made to vary the destruction order to a disposal order under the Welfare of Animals (NI) Act, 2011, on the grounds that the dogs will be placed into the care of an animal rescue centre outside this jurisdiction, until such time as they are accessed as suitable to be permanently rehomed.
If this is not possible, the dogs will remain in the care of the rescue centre.
Before granting the application, Judge McColgan QC was told by Crown prosecutor Joseph Murphy that it was initially believed that the three dogs presented a risk to the public and could never be re-socialised or re-homed, but that after several assessments, an alternative outcome to the animals being destroyed was being sought.
Mr Murphy said all three dogs were assessed by a vet, who carried out several tests on them to ascertain whether or not they presented a risk to humans.
During one test, the vet approached each dog in a threatening manner and at no time did the animals display any signs of aggression.
In a second test, the vet placed a bowl of food in front of each dog and after they started eating the food, the vet removed the bowl. Again, none of the three dogs displayed any aggression towards him.
The court heard that following a series of assessments and examinations on each dog, the vet concluded: "In my professional opinion, in the hands of a responsible owner, the risk to humans in relation to this dog attacking or biting is low."
It also emerged that the dogs "are no different than any other dogs" and they were deemed as presenting "no greater risk than any other dog."
Mr Murphy also told the court that the owner of the animal rescue centre "has been in this business for 17 years" and she will undertake an extensive and intensive rehabilitation programme with each dog before she is satisfied they are ready for rehoming.
After hearing the submissions on behalf of the Crown, Judge McColgan granted the application be varied from a destruction order to a disposal order on the grounds that all three be placed into the care of the animal centre.
Speaking about the animals in question, a police spokeswoman said: "Following an approach from an animal care provider from outside the jurisdiction, offering to house animals that were the subject of a recent animal cruelty case, police asked the Public Prosecution Service and subsequently the court to consider these alternative arrangements for the disposal of the animals."
© UTV News