Anti-fox hunting campaigners call out 'hypocrisy' of XL Bully ban

Activists argue the same standard should be applied for all dogs, but others say the figures on XL bully attacks are too high to ignore.

Milton Keynes,UK 31st jan 2024. Bonnie the two year old XL Bully out for a walk wearing a muzzle in order to comply with the new legislation.. credit: Sue Thatcher/Alamy Live News
A law banning unregistered XL Bully dogs came into effect on 1 February. (Alamy)

Less than a week after a ban on unregistered XL bully dogs came into force, a 68-year-old great-grandmother has been killed in an attack that was believed to have involved two dogs of the controversial breed.

Police in Jaywick, Essex, were called to the scene on Hillman Avenue shortly after 4pm on Saturday, where they found Esther Martin, seriously injured. She was later pronounced dead at the scene.

Martin's daughter, Sonia Martin, said her mother was visiting her 11-year-old grandson for the weekend when she was attacked. She told MailOnline: “They were XL Bullies. There were eight of them in the house, six puppies and two adults. Her grandson was in the house. He came running out shouting for help. We would like to thank all the neighbours who tried to help our mum.”

Police said a 39-year-old man from Jaywick was arrested on suspicion of dangerous dogs offences and remains in custody. More details, including Martin's connection to the dogs' owner are yet to be revealed, but already the incident has been fuelling the debate on social media about how dangerous XL Bullies are, and the effectiveness of the ban.

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The day before the attack, anti-fox hunting group Protect the Wild posted a video calling out what it described as the "hypocrisy" of the ban. A spokesman for the group said: "XL bullies are struggling for their lives through little fault of their own. It is beyond clear that the vast majority of dog attacks stem from irresponsible owners."

He pointed to a 2021 Middlesex University research report finding that human behaviour, "particularly inappropriate behaviour around dogs", is a "key factor" behind dog attacks. "What's even crazier then, is the hypocrisy in which the government allows hunts up and down the country to train hounds to be dangerous", he added.

The spokesman said these hounds are "constantly out of control and killing wildlife", yet very few prosecutions follow as a result. Instead of hounds or terriers facing the same fate as XL bullies, Protect the Wild advocates for new rules promoting "responsible guardianship of all dogs".

Fox hunting was banned in England and Wales under the Hunting Act 2004 in England and Wales. Legal "trail hunts" where hounds follow a pre-laid scent to simulate a hunt, still take place, but campaigners argue this has been used as a smokescreen for real hunting to continue. Yahoo news has contacted the Countryside Alliance for comment.

This is the same stance of the Don't Ban Me - Licence Me group, whose requests for a judicial review into the XL bully ban was rejected in late January. The group points to research submitted to Parliament in 2018 suggesting that out of 256 fatal dog bites, breeds were accurately identified in only 18% of cases.

Earlier this week a former police dog handler said the XL bully ban "probably won't work", suggesting that a focus on "owner education" to help people spot when their pet is uncomfortable, would be a better approach. Mike Barnett pointed to the 1991 ban on pit bulls, which was expected to "eradicate" the breed, but evidently hasn't.

"We've routinely run at 3,500 on the exemption register. Two days ago, there was over 30,000 dogs registered as XL bullies," he told the BBC.

When will the body count be enough for people to understand?

Bully Watch, a campaign group raising awareness of attacks and fatalities by large bully-related dogs, says the numbers are now simply too high to ignore.

In response to the death of Esther Martin, the group said: "Since we've launched our campaign in July 2023, 3 people have now been killed by XL Bullies. It is time to end this debate. No other dog breed is systematically connected to fatalities. When will the body count be enough for people to understand?"

In an apparent reference to the sheer strength of bully types, the group claims that from 1980 to 2020, 53% of dog attack victims were children, which has fallen to 28% in the past four years. "What is absolutely shocking is that healthy adults being killed by dogs is now the majority. That is due to XLs," the group added.

"Bully XLs have now killed more people in the UK in 2 years and 3 months than any other breed of dog. They have killed more people than all Rottweilers, German Shepherds and all types of Mastiffs combined over the past 34 years.

"Since 1980, 71 people have been killed by dogs. Bull breeds were responsible for 46 of these deaths. From 1980 to 2020 there were 47 deaths. Since 2020, there have been 26 deaths. Bull breeds were responsible for 20 of these. 15 from XLs." The group argues that given these numbers, the argument for BNL (breed-neutral regulations) is "dead".

What are the current rules on XL bullies?

It is now a criminal offence to own or possess an XL Bully dog in England and Wales unless you have a valid exemption certificate.

The rule came into force on February 1, with owners given a deadline of 31 January to register their dogs, with applications now closed. The RSPCA warned that thousands of XL bully owners are likely to be breaching the ban.

It is also an offence under the new legislation to, sell an XL Bully dog, abandon one or let it stray, give one a away, breed or breed from one, or have one in public without a lead and a muzzle. For those who do have a certificate of exemption, their dog must be kept at the same address as the certificate holder, although they can be visit a different address for a maximum of 30 days in a 12-month period.

Owners are required to tell the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) if they permanently change address, and if the dog dies or is exported. They must have third party public liability insurance and provide Defra with proof it is being renewed each year.

When in public, an XL bully's lead must be held securely by someone at least 16 years old, and the dog must be kept in secure conditions that will stop it from escaping.

Scotland has also announced a ban from 23 February 2024, at which point dogs will have to be on a lead and muzzled in public with a ban on breeding from, selling, exchanging or acquiring an XL bully.

Scottish XL bully owners will then have until 31 July 2024 to apply for a certificate of exemption for their dog, according to the Blue Cross. Northern Ireland has not yet announced a ban but is likely to in the future.