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Why and how will the ban on American XL bullies operate?

Rishi Sunak has announced that the American XL bully will be banned in the UK by the end of the year after a spate of serious attacks, some fatal, in recent years. It will be the first breed to be added to the prohibited list under the Dangerous Dogs Act since the law was introduced in 1991.

What are XL bullies?

The American XL bully is a modern breed of dog developed in the 1990s – the largest variation of the American bully breed that also includes the pocket bully and standard bully. It is thought to have been bred from a number of breeds including the American pit bull terrier, which was banned in the UK in 1991. It has a heavy bone structure and stocky, muscular body. Fully grown adult males can weigh more than 57kg (9st) and grow to 53cm in height.

First introduced to the UK in about 2014, the dog has soared in popularity in recent years, with puppies selling for thousands of pounds. However, as it is not officially recognised as a breed by the Royal Kennel Club, there is little data on how many there are. Numbers are believed to be in the thousands. According to Bully Watch, a group that has campaigned for the breed to be banned, they account for less than 1% of all owned dogs across the country.

Are they dangerous?

There is extensive debate about whether the XL bully is dangerous, and if so, why. Six of the 10 fatal dog attacks in the UK last year were linked to XL bullies, and at least three of the seven this year. There is little data to show which breeds are responsible for non-fatal dog attacks on humans or other animals, but Bully Watch estimates XL bullies are responsible for about 44% of attacks this year.

Some campaign groups believe the XL bully is inherently dangerous, and potential inbreeding may exaggerate behaviours such as aggression. Its strength and size mean any attacks or bites are more likely to be serious.

Others, including animal welfare charities such as the RSPCA, Blue Cross and the Kennel Club, think dogs should be judged on their “deed not breed” and oppose a ban. They argue the increased popularity of the breed has turned the dogs into “valuable commodities, resulting in irresponsible breeding, rearing and ownership, which can all contribute to an increased likelihood of aggression in dogs, regardless of breed”. Previous investigations have uncovered extensive links between XL bully breeders, many of which are unlicensed, and organised crime.

Why are they being banned now?

Campaigners including the mother of 10-year-old Jack Lis, who was killed by an XL bully in 2021, have been calling for a ban. A video showing an XL bully cross-breed breaking free from its collar in a street in Birmingham last weekend and attacking people, including an 11-year-old girl who received bites to her arm and shoulder, prompted Suella Braverman, the home secretary, to announce she was seeking “urgent advice” on a ban.

Rishi Sunak’s announcement came hours after it emerged that a man had died after being attacked by two dogs, believed to be XL bullies, in Staffordshire. A spokesperson for Sunak said work on implementing a ban had been under way for some time but was complicated by the fact the XL bully is not a legally recognised breed.

What other dogs are banned in the UK?

When the Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced in the UK in 1991, it banned four breeds – the pit bull terrier, Japanese tosa, dogo Argentino and fila Brasileiro. It was brought in after a spate of 11 serious attacks that year, including the mauling of a six-year-old girl as she walked with her family in Bradford. The XL bully will be the first dog to be added to the list since then.

How will the ban work?

The rules as outlined in the Dangerous Dogs Act state that banned dogs are identified by their physical characteristics, as determined by a dog legislation officer – a police officer experienced in dog handling and dog legislation. Banned dogs can be seized by the police and destroyed, unless the owner applies for an exemption from court.

Exemptions can be granted if the dog is deemed not to be a danger to the public, is deemed to be owned by a “fit and proper” person to be in charge of a dog, and is neutered and microchipped. The owner can be granted a certificate of exemption that is valid for the duration of the dog’s life and often comes with strict conditions such as keeping it muzzled and on a lead in public, and taking out insurance to cover any injury or death caused by the dog.

Are bans effective?

Evidence suggests that making a breed illegal will reduce numbers but not eliminate them. Metropolitan police data from 2015-16 – 25 years after the Dangerous Dog Act was introduced – showed banned pit bull terriers were responsible for 19% of dog attacks across London.

The RSPCA said that in the 20-year period from 1999 to 2019, the number of hospital admissions for the treatment of dog bites increased by 154% despite the prohibition of certain types of dogs, and adding another breed to the list “will only see history repeating itself”.

There is concern similar breeds will be developed or introduced as a result of the ban, in the same way that the American bully has grown more popular since the pit bull terrier was banned.


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