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Eleanor Sing and her mum Barbara, from Bristol were working at a local kennel in 2014 when Sky arrived, after her original owner moved to Australia.
“My mum and I started walking her, taking her out, playing with her and spending time with her," said Eleanor.
“We did that for almost two years and, unsurprisingly, formed a really strong bond with her.”
However, kennel staff soon discovered that Sky had been identified as a prohibited type of dog, having previously been positively assessed as a pit bull terrier.
Pit bull terriers, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Braziliero dogs were traditionally bred for fighting, and in 1991, breed specific legislation was introduced to restrict ownership.
Dogs suspected of being one of these breeds are often seized by the police for assessment. Some are returned home, but some are tragically euthanised.
Sky's former owner had applied to the courts to have her exempt from the laws, but as she had been away from her original owner for more than 30 days, the process had to be repeated.
After she was seized in April 2016, Eleanor and Barbara decided to step in and look after her themselves.
“We didn’t know anything about the ins and outs of this law until we met Sky and we discovered that it was illegal to rehome prohibited types of dogs – even though they are identified by how they look, and not because of their actual breeding or behaviour," said Eleanor.
“She was a wonderful, friendly, sweet dog and we were prepared to go through whatever court process we needed to take her on.
“But because the previous owner couldn’t be found, it looked like the only option was for her to be put to sleep.”
Luckily, Eleanor and Barbara managed to track down Sky's former owner who agreed to help. They also sought legal advice and raised £20,000 to fund the fight.
In April 2017, the family spent eight hours in court trying to save her life – with the judge ultimately granting them keepership.
However, Defra refused to issue the necessary paperwork and the fight was taken to the High Court.
“We had six court hearings in total. It had been such a rollercoaster for us but she’d been in kennels all that time," said Eleanor.
“By this point, she was six and she had spent almost four years – more than half her life – in kennels.”
The case was returned to the crown court in January 2018 and Barbara became Sky’s registered keeper at last.
Eleanor said: “We were over the moon, we couldn’t believe it. “We were worried she might be a different dog after so long away but she settled in right away.
“The police van pulled up and she got out, tail wagging. She jumped straight up onto the sofa for a cuddle.
“She knew she was home.”
Sky is now nine years old and although she has to wear a muzzle outside, the family hire a local field where she can run off-lead and spend time without her muzzle.
"Sometimes people look nervous because of her muzzle and assume she’s aggressive," said Eleanor.
"We’ve had to educate a lot of people about BSL [Breed Specific Legislation] and what that means for Sky. Sky spent a lot of her life in kennels because of the way she looked – she almost paid for it with her life.
“It was incredibly difficult to save Sky but it was worth every penny and every minute.
“At the time it felt never ending, it was exhausting. It’s so sad that we had to go through so much to bring her home when she’s just like any other dog.
“She loves to snooze on the sofa and have cuddles. You couldn’t wish for a better dog – everyone who meets her loves her.
“The only thing everyone agreed on during this whole journey was that Sky was a lovely dog. She’s amazing and the best thing that ever happened to us – and she helped mum so much during lockdown. They’re soulmates.
“Dogs should be judged not by how they look but by how they behave and irresponsible owners should be held accountable.
“It’s tragic that so many dogs aren’t as lucky as Sky – we’re so glad we kept fighting for her.
“Sky lost many years of her life due to BSL but, thankfully, she’s still with us and we hope to have her for many years to come.”
The RSPCA has said there is “no research to demonstrate that these breeds are any more aggressive than other dogs” – arguing that breed is not a good predictor of risk of aggression.
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