American XL bully dog ban may be ineffective in short term, UK experts warn | Dangerous dogs

A ban on American XL bully dogs may prove ineffective in the short term, with limited resources in police forces to enforce new laws and the prospect of a backlog in the courts, experts warned this weekend.

Some police forces only have one or two trained dog legislation officers. The police and the courts may be required to deal with hundreds of cases from owners of XL bully dogs seeking exemptions to any ban.

The UK’s chief veterinary officer said on Saturday there would not be a cull of the XL bully dogs after a spate of attacks.

Ian Price, 52, was attacked and killed by dogs, thought to be XL bullies in Stonnall, Staffordshire. Photograph: Staffordshire Police

Ian Price, 52, who was described as a “pillar of the community”, died after being attacked by two suspected XL bullies in the Staffordshire village of Stonnall on Thursday.

A dog can be given an exemption to the Dangerous Dogs Act if it can be proved to the courts it is not dangerous, under an amendment introduced in 1997. There are about 3,500 dogs on the index of exempted dogs in England, Wales and Scotland. They must be neutered, microchipped and muzzled in a public place.

Michael Barnett, an expert witness on dangerous dogs and former dog legislation officer at Warwickshire police, said there were limited resources, and it may take several hundreds of hours of court time for those wanting their XL bully dogs to be exempted.

The details of how XL bullies may be registered as exempt and ruled not a threat to the public have not yet been announced.

Barnett said large police forces may only have five or six trained dog legislation officers who might provide evidence in cases, and smaller police forces only one or two.

“The resources are simply not there and at the moment the system wouldn’t cope with it,” he said. “This is a kneejerk reaction and they would be better looking at responsible ownership, responsible breeding and an in-depth look at licensing.”

XL bully dogs are not a legally-recognised breed, and the government is convening a panel of experts to define the breed, with a view to implementing a ban by the end of the year.

Daniel Shaw, director of the consultancy Animal Behaviour Kent, said: “There are likely to be lots of disputes in the courts. I don’t think targeting one breed is the right approach. We’ve had the Dangerous Dogs Act since 1991, which prohibited certain breeds, and dog bites have risen in the last 20 years.”

Prime minister Rishi Sunak announced the ban on XL bully dogs on Friday, warning they were a “danger to our communities”.

On average, about three people were killed in England and Wales each year in dogs attacks from 2001 to 2021, but there has been a sudden increase in deaths, with XL bully dogs involved in a significant number of the attacks. Ten people died in England and Wales because of dog bite injuries in 2022.

Jeffrey Turner, a dangerous dogs assessor and former Metropolitan police dog handler, said any new laws were unlikely to have a short-term impact. He said irresponsible owners who had potentially dangerous dogs were least likely to comply, and enforcement would take significant time.

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He said: “There could be so many dogs pulled in on this. I sympathise with people who have been bitten and those who have lost family. I can understand the public outcry, so the public has to do something. I hope they will establish best practices to get things done.”

The campaign group Bully Watch has raised awareness over the dog attacks involving XL bully dogs and called for a ban. Animal welfare charity the RSPCA says that breed is not a reliable predictor of aggressive behaviour in dogs, and the government should focus on ensuring responsible dog ownership.

The XL bully is a modern breed of dog that was developed in the 1990s and is thought to be bred from a number of breeds, including the American pit bull terrier. Fully-grown adult males can weigh more than 57kg (about 9st).

Dr Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s chief veterinary officer, said the government would adopt an “amnesty” approach to the ban, so there would not be a cull of dogs.

Speaking on Saturday on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: “So people that already have these dogs – and some of them will be well socialised, well managed, well trained – you will need to register and take certain actions. Your dog will need to be neutered. It will need to be muzzled when out in public and on a lead and insured.

“But if you comply with these actions, and that means we’ll know where these dogs are, which will be a massive benefit, then, yes, absolutely you will be able to keep your dog.”

The government says it will be an offence to own, breed, gift or sell an XL bully. It says there will be a transition period, with the details yet to be confirmed.

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