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'Thousands' of XL bully owners could be flouting rules as ban deadline looms

As the ban on the XL bully comes into effect from 1 February, Yahoo UK examines the breed in detail.

Front close up view of an XL bully dog
A spate of attacks fuelled calls for XL bully dogs to be banned. (Alamy)

Owners of XL bully dogs have been warned that they will be flouting new rules on ownership as the ban on the breed comes into effect from midnight.

From 1 February it will be a criminal offence to own an XL bully in England and Wales without a certificate. The deadline to apply for certificates of exemption if owners wish to keep their pets ran out at midday on Wednesday, 31 January.

The RSPCA has warned thousands of owners that they will be breaching the ban if they do no apply for a certificate, which the charity described as a “concern”. Dr Sam Gaines, a dog welfare expert for the RSPCA, told the BBC that there are “definitely” going to be owners who will not have gone through the exemption process.

"This is why we need to make sure resources are focused on individuals who are deliberately keeping dogs because they want to threaten people with them, frighten people and intimidate them," she added.

The new rules make it illegal to breed, sell, advertise, exchange, gift, rehome, abandon or allow XL bully dogs to stray in England and Wales. The dogs must also be kept on a lead and muzzled in public.

If owners have a pup that is less than a year old on Wednesday, they must have them neutered by the end of 2024, and evidence that they have been must be provided.

Defra said it had received more than 11,073 applications for exemptions to the ban by 27 December, with 1,560 rejected.

The exemption means the animals will not be put down but must comply with rules that state they must be microchipped and neutered, with animals under a year old given until the end of 2024 to be neutered while older dogs must be neutered by June. The then environment secretary Therese Coffey said in November that ministers had taken “quick and decisive action to protect the public from tragic dog attacks”.

XL Bully dogs must also wear a muzzle and be kept on a lead when in a public place.

Owners who fail to register their dogs on the index face a criminal record and an unlimited fine. Their dog could also be seized. They have the option to have their dog put down by a vet, with the government providing £200 compensation for those who choose this option.

What is an American XL bully dog?

The American bully is a relatively new dog breed from the US, with its first official breed registry, the American Bully Kennel Club (ABKC), founded in 2004.

As it is not registered as a recognised breed by the UK Kennel Club, it is unclear how many of the dogs or breeders are currently in the country.

The UK government has estimated there are about 10,000 American XL bullies in the UK while the Blue Cross animal charity has suggested it is more like 15,000.

It comes in a variety of sizes, including pocket, standard and XL, the latter of which has become a cause of concern.

To give an idea as to why, out of the 10 fatal dog attacks in the UK during 2022, six involved an XL bully, the Guardian reported. The breed is responsible for killing at least nine people, including three children, since 2001.

male American Bully XL
Not all campaigners are in agreement about the approach to dealing with American XL bully dogs. (Alamy)

Bully Watch, an organisation set up to monitor attacks by breed, believes American bully XL and bully mix breeds have been behind 45% of attacks on humans and other dogs.

However, it accepted its statistics aren't perfect, as someone who'd been attacked by a smaller dog would probably be less likely to report it.

An adult male XL bully can weigh over nine stone and stand up to 23 inches tall at the wither, making some alarmed by the muscular breed's sheer physical power.

Which breeds of dog are currently banned in the UK?

Currently, there are four breeds on the country's banned dogs list, which are: pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro.

Government data says there are more than 3,000 banned dogs living in homes in England, Scotland and Wales.

Some including Tory former minister Sir John Hayes called for the American Bully XL – closely related to the pit bull terrier – to be added to that list last year.

XL bully dogs: Read more

Speaking in parliament in June 2023, he cited a number of fatal attacks in recent years involving the breed, including on 17-month-old Bella-Rae Birch, and 10-year-old Jack Lis.

He added: "We need an urgent statement from the government, not to debate this matter but simply to confirm that this bad breed, bred to kill, should be banned."

Meanwhile, Jack's mother, Emma Whitfield, 32, has been calling for tougher sentencing and regulation to prevent people misusing potentially dangerous "status symbol" dogs.

Animal rights charity Peta has called for a ban on breeding American bullies, saying: "No one can pretend that owners are solely to blame."

Why are some against banning them?

Not all animal charities are in favour of a ban, and the RSPCA pulled out of a consultation about the definition of the dog type.

The animal welfare charity is part of the Dog Control Coalition, along with the likes of the Dogs Trust and the British Veterinary Association, which put out a statement following Sunak’s announcement, arguing that a ban “will sadly not stop” the attacks.

The RSPCA said: “Dog aggression is highly complex, and taking a breed-focused approach is fundamentally flawed.

“We believe focusing on the type of dog, rather than their individual actions, is a flawed and failing approach. We’re very concerned to see more discussions around adding another type of dog to the banned list.”

While the UK Kennel Club does not recognise the American bully, it too has insisted on a "deed not breed" approach as the best way forward.

Watch: Mum of boy, 10, killed by American bully dog condemns owners who want 'status symbol'

"We believe that breed-specific legislation ignores the most important factors that contribute to biting incidents – primarily anti-social behaviour by irresponsible dog owners who train their dogs to be aggressive or do not train their dogs adequately," it said.

"Consequently, current legislation – which is based on genetics and ignores the influence of the dog's keeper – has failed to prevent a large number of dog-bite incidents and has cost the police millions of pounds in kennelling-associated costs.

"Sadly, it has also resulted in the unnecessary euthanasia of dogs simply because of their breed or type. No breed of dog is inherently dangerous."

A Dogs Trust spokesman has previously said: “Dogs Trust wants to see the current dog control laws replaced with one consolidated law that allows for early intervention with a focus on the prevention of dog bite incidents and includes measures that deter and punish owners of dogs whose behaviour is dangerous.

“We will continue to look for reform in existing dog control laws until we are satisfied that any new measures are preventative, breed-neutral and effective, and ultimately protect both dogs and people alike.”