by Nick Mays
OUR DOGS is sad to report the passing of Dempsey, the Pit Bull Terrier who, at one time was one of the most famous dogs in the country – indeed, in the whole world.. She was a dog that earned her fame, a dog whose endurance was an inspiration to us all – human and canine alike, because Dempsey was the dog who cracked the hated Dangerous Dogs Act wide open. The fact that she celebrated her 17th birthday on Sunday, February 2nd 2003 is quite an achievement for any dog, but considering the fact that she was not expected to live beyond her 9th birthday, with a bloodthirsty establishment seeking every possible way to kill her under the strictest and most draconian terms of DDA.
Dempsey was owned by Diane Fanneran, of Hanwell, West London. Dempsey had never shown any aggression to any other dog or human being in her life, yet she found herself on doggy death row for over three years, thanks to the intransigence of the law. Dempsey was being taken for a walk by family friend Mark Cichon one evening in April 1992, duly muzzled and leashed, in accordance with the newly enacted law. Suddenly, she began to choke, trying to vomit, but unable to because of her muzzle. Mark quickly removed the muzzle to allow Dempsey to be sick, at which point two police officers – one of them an Inspector pulled up in a patrol car and informed him that he had broken the law by having a Pit Bull unmuzzled in a public place. Mark’s protests that Dempsey was normally muzzled and that he’d only removed the muzzle temporarily to allow her to vomit and not chokes to death were waved aside as irrelevant. After all, he was told, the law is the law.
Mark was summonsed to appear in court under the terms of the DDA, but he neglected to mention the fact to Diane. The case was heard at Ealing Magistrates Court three months later where Mark was found guilty of breaking the law and Dempsey was sentenced to death, as the magistrates then had no discretion in sentencing under the DDA. Mark was notified by letter on 15th July to surrender the dog to the police for destruction. He then went to Diane’s place of work to drop the bombshell on her.
Thus it was, the next day, 16th July, Diane, in a state of shock delivered Dempsey to Ealing police station, from where she was taken to be placed in solitary confinement in a bare concrete kennel in the station yard, later to be taken to secret kennels. But Diane did not come alone- she was accompanied by Stan James, a reporter from the local newspaper, who took photographs of the hand over, much to the anger of Inspector Nursey, the inspector who had approached Mark that fateful day.
From here on, the legal merry-ground that was the DDA began. There were numerous appeals made on Dempsey's behalf over the next three years, first by the solicitor acting for Mark, then later by the solicitor acting for Diane, well-known DDA expert Trevor Cooper. The appeals were heard at Crown Court, the High Court, the House of Lords and the High Court again. All were rejected. The law said that Dempsey had to die.
Diane is convinced that matters had progressed far beyond the original charge, Dempsey had become a pawn to those in authority.
“I realised that the whole Establishment was out to get her, not because she was a dangerous dog, but because she was a Pit Bull,” says Diane grimly, “The DDA was coming under a great deal of criticism at that time, there were lots of dogs like Otis, Buster and Kizzie held in kennels at that time and they wanted to make an example of her, breaking the legal challenges.”
Dempsey’s story was reported extensively in the canine press, as well as local and then later, national and international newspapers. The French actress turned animal welfare campaigner Brigitte Bardot was so concerned about Dempsey's plight that she offered to fly the dog out to France to live out her days at her own animal sanctuary, entirely at Ms Bardot's expense. The offer was put to Home Secretary Michael Howard, who bluntly refused, saying that he could not intervene in the process of law.
A final date was set for the case to be heard in the High Court in November 1995 and there seemed no other legal argument to save Dempsey’s life. But with just two days to go to the crucial hearing, anti-DDA campaigner Juliette Glass discovered a legal loophole by checking through the case notes of another, little known DDA case, that of Robertina Reilly and her dog Tempra. The case bore remarkable similarities to Dempsey’s case and had been dismissed by the High Court when it was found that Reilly, as the dog’s owner, had not been informed of the court hearing – just like Diane Fanneran. As Juliette Glass herself remarked, this was truly a case of divine intervention. The High Court heard from Ealing magistrates that if Diane had been in court that day, matters might have progressed very differently. The two High Court judges considered this new evidence, and, pointedly remarking that they took a very dim view of the prosecution's whole case and promptly ordered that Dempsey be released.
“I just can’t describe that feeling when I sat there in court and heard that she’d be released,” says Diane. “It still makes me fill up to this day. And then when she was brought home the next evening….” 24 hours later, before TV cameras and press reporters, Diane and Dempsey were reunited. The pair had only seen each other once for a brief meeting since Dempsey was seized. For the next few days, Dempsey was the most famous dog in Britain, appearing on TV and in newspapers. She even knocked Princess Diana off the front page of the Daily Mail!
Happily, Dempsey had no brushes with the law since and was, for some time, a regular figure anti-DDA protests, a symbol of true justice against adversity.
Perhaps not surprisingly for an elderly dog, Dempsey’s health has deteriorated in recent years, suffering from heart problem and arthritis. Diane’s own health took a downward turn, prompting Diane to joke: “We both take our pills together – we’re a real couple of old dames together!”
But last Sunday, Dempsey made it clear to Diane that she could go on no longer. “She was so lethargic and I could see in her eyes that she’d had enough,” Diane told OUR DOGS. “We contacted campaigners Eugene and Amanda, who live close by and they arranged for a vet to come to the house. She was put to sleep in her own bed, held by Keith. It was very peaceful, she simply just closed her eyes and drifted away.”
Dempsey was buried later that day in Diane’s back garden – ironically in the same site as a grave was dug for her in 1995 when all hope seemed lost. “She’ll live on in the garden, through the flowers,” said Diane. “And I know she’s truly free now, her spirit is free to run, with no muzzle or lead. Because Dempsey and dogs like her never had real freedom. They always had to be muzzled and leashed in public. If she wanted a run, I’d have to run with her, holding her on the lead. But she’s free from all that now.
“She was a truly remarkable dog, and my life is all the richer for having known her. She was good, gentle and happy – in fact, she was never happier than when my grandchildren used to come and visit. Even well into her old age, she would always play with them. She never let her experience of her lost years change her character for the worst – she was always my very special girl.”
TRIBUTES TO DEMPSEY:
Juliette and John Glass, Fury Defence Fund: “We are greatly saddened to hear of the death of Dempsey and have spoken at length to Diane to express our deep condolences. Dempsey, like our own beloved Holly epitomised the very essence of the American Pit Bull Terrier with her Beauty, courage and gentility. Holly championed Demspey’s cause all during her four years unjust incarceration by the authorities, going on all the ‘Save Demspey’ marches organised by Jean Dyson and also attending the courts and TV studios wit Carla Lane and others to support Dempsey. They both played happily together when Dempsey was released and I know in all certainty that Holly was waiting for her dear friend Dempsey at the Rainbow Bridge.
Everyone who met Demspey loved her, she was a special lady and a superb ambassador for the American Pit Bull Terrier.”
Amanda Dunkley, Endangered Dogs Defence and Rescue: “Dempsey was a shining example of an American Pit Bull Terrier and a true ambassador of the breed.
In the end she was surrounded by the people who loved her and in her own home as she peacefully passed away, it was a very sad and moving moment for us all. A beautiful, precious friend and companion has been lost. Dempsey is now truly free of man's most appalling legislation in the shape of the atrocious DDA. She will remain in our hearts always, gone from sight but not forgotten. Otis, Lacey, Jessie and many others will keep her company - till we all meet again.”
Richard Smith, NCDL:
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