American XL bully dogs must be kept on a lead and muzzled as new rules come into force

Fresh restrictions say the dogs must be kept on a lead and muzzled in public – with a new government ban set to come into force in February

Alex Ross
Sunday 31 December 2023 09:16
'Strong case' for banning XL Bully dogs, says Keir Starmer

XL bully dogs must be kept on a lead and muzzled in public under new restrictions, amid fears among animal welfare groups that a looming ban on the breed will overwhelm vets and rescue centres.

Breeding, selling or abandoning the dogs has also become illegal as of Sunday, with owners being urged to apply for a certificate of exemption for current pets before the 31 January deadline.

From 1 February, it will be a criminal offence to own an XL bully dog in England and Wales without a certificate.

It comes after The Independent revealed that fatal dog attacks have surged to a record high in the last two years as campaigners, victims’ families and animal charities warn changes to the law do not go far enough.

There have been 16 deaths by dog bites recorded so far this year, more than double the six fatalities in 2022. Between 1991 and 2021, the number never went above five, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

An XL bully dog called Riz at a protest against the government’s decision to ban the breed

The overall number of dog attacks has also soared. Figures obtained by The Independent from police forces in England and Wales show there has been an almost 60 per cent rise in the last five years.

On the new ban, environment secretary Steve Barclay said the government had met its pledge to take “quick and decisive action” following a series of attacks, with one man dying after being savaged by one of the dogs earlier this year.

But the RSPCA said banning the breed was “not the answer” and warned of a “huge risk” that rescue centres and vets will be unable to cope.

Dr Samantha Gaines, dog welfare expert at the charity, said: “The ban on XL bullies not only remains devastating for so many dogs but is also taking a heavy toll on owners, on rescue centre staff who have grown close to dogs in their care, and on veterinary teams who face the prospect of being asked to put to sleep healthy dogs whose behaviour poses no risk.

“There is a huge risk that rescue centres and the veterinary profession will not be able to cope with the demands put on them by this law.

“We urgently need more information and support from the UK government so that we can help support owners and dogs affected by this ban but we will also need help and support to get through this too.”

Animal welfare groups fear a looming ban on the breed will overwhelm vets and rescue centres

Meanwhile, the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes (ADCH) warned of increased abandonment rates and said the new rules may lead to a “postcode lottery” for vets being able to help owners meet the terms.

To qualify for an exemption certificate, owners must prove their XL bully has been neutered by 30 June.

If the pup is less than a year old by 31 January, it must be neutered by the end of 2024, and evidence must be provided.

As well as neutering their animals, XL bully owners seeking an exemption must also pay an application fee, hold active public liability insurance for their pets, and ensure the dogs are microchipped.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said a “staggered approach” had been taken to the restrictions in order to safely manage the existing population of XL bully dogs while ultimately banning the breed.

The dogs were added to the Dangerous Dogs Act on 31 October, giving owners two months to prepare for the first stage of restrictions.

People with dangerously out-of-control dogs can be jailed for 14 years and banned from owning animals, and their pets can be put down.

Mr Barclay said: “The prime minister pledged to take quick and decisive action to protect the public from devastating dog attacks with measures in place by the end of 2023. We have met that pledge – it is now a legal requirement for XL bully dogs to be muzzled and on a lead in public. It is also now illegal to breed, sell, advertise, gift, exchange, abandon or let XL bully dogs stray.

“All XL bully owners are expected to comply with the law and we will continue to work closely with the police, canine and veterinary experts, and animal welfare groups, with further restrictions on XL bully dogs coming into force on 1 February.”

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