Warning 10,000 unregistered XL bullies could be at large despite ban coming into force

As many as 10,000 XL bully dogs could be without a certificate of exemption, as the ban on the breed comes into force.

It is now a criminal offence to own an XL bully, as of midnight on Thursday 1 February, unless an application was submitted by midday on Wednesday 31 January.

A police chief has warned that illegal XL bully owners should comply with officers if their dog is seized because their behaviour may influence a court’s decision to have it put down.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said they had been informed that around 40,000 dog owners had registered their pets since the ban was announced by Rishi Sunak in September.

However, one of the UK’s largest veterinary practitioners, IVC Evidensia, believes that there are an estimated 50,000 XL bullies in the country, while other animal welfare charities have placed the figure as high as 100,000.

Dog owners who have applied for the exemption must keep their pets muzzled and on a lead when out in public, while breeding, selling or abandoning the dogs has also been illegal as of 31 December.

It is now a criminal offence to own an XL bully without a certificate of exemption (PA)
It is now a criminal offence to own an XL bully without a certificate of exemption (PA)

Those who have not registered and ensured their dog is microchipped and neutered face their pet being seized by police and a court hearing which could result in a criminal conviction and the destruction of the animal.

NPCC Dangerous Dogs Lead Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hobrough stressed: “From midnight, all dogs not registered and in possession of people in the UK, in private or in public, are committing an offence.

“I urge anyone fitting that criteria to come forward and report their dog. It is an absolute offence to be in possession of one of these dogs in a public or private domain.”

The latest figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) show that 117 people have applied for the £200 allowance for their dogs to be put to sleep by a vet.

It has also been reported that a number of American XL bullies have been rehomed in Scotland, which has not yet enforced its own ban on the breed.

The prime minister announced the ban after a series of deadly attacks, with Mr Sunak saying the dogs were a “danger to our communities, particularly our children”.

At a press conference, ACC Hobrough said: “In recent years we’ve seen an upsurge and prevalence of XL bully types right across the UK and unfortunately that has aligned with a rather dramatic increase in the types of severe and fatal attacks that we’ve seen.

“Unfortunately, a few of these attacks have been associated with XL bully dogs. In the last five years alone, we’ve seen an upsurge of between 30 per cent and in some of the more metropolitan areas, 50 per cent, in severe attacks.”

Between 2001 and 2021, the UK averaged three fatal dog attacks per year, which compares to 23 in the last two years. Several of these deaths, which include 10-year-old Jack Lis, were related to XL bully types.

The ban on the breed prompted protests in London and other cities (PA)
The ban on the breed prompted protests in London and other cities (PA)

The recent ban may spark higher demand for kennels and cause “logistical challenges” for officers, ACC Hobrough said, with police forces “actively looking to enhance” the numbers they can hold.

There are 137 dog legislation officers across the country, with at least one in every force.

They also warned members of the public not to be alarmed if XL bullies are seen visibly in public wearing a muzzle and lead, as this complies with the new legislation.

However, if they are concerned about a particular animal, they should contact 101 to report it or 999 if the dog has become aggressive.

Asked if they were expecting resistance from dog owners, ACC Horbrough said: “It’s an emotive subject in general and there are parts of communities across the country who feel very strongly the legislation is wrong.

“I do empathise with them but this type of dog in the wrong hands is a very dangerous thing and unfortunately we have seen this dog connected to some undesirable ownership. We’ve seen breeding which is unscrupulous, cruelty to these dogs in restricted cages and teaching aggressive tactics.”

They warned that officers will take proportionate actions and hope to use a minimum amount of force when met with resistance, but owners must comply with the law.

Dr Samantha Gaines, dog welfare expert at the RSPCA, said there have been reports of owners struggling to comply with the restrictions that came into force at the end of last year, particularly the requirement to muzzle their pet in public.

“In order for a dog to get used to wearing a muzzle it is really, really important that it is introduced in a very slow, gradual way… but for some dogs, they have really, really struggled with it.”

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

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

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