Why I have changed my mind about banning XL bullies after Ian Price's death

Ian Price died of his injuries after being attacked by two XL bullies (NationalWorld/SWNS/Adobe Stock)
Ian Price died of his injuries after being attacked by two XL bullies (NationalWorld/SWNS/Adobe Stock)

It seems like just a few days since I wrote against the UK banning XL bullies for the sake of all of the loving, responsible owners, but I've already changed my mind.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has vowed that the American XL bully - a fairly new breed derived, in part, from already-banned pit bulls - will be banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act by the end of the year.

As a reporter covering animal welfare issues, the issue has dominated my stories over the past few days. I've looked into what breed-based stats there are on dog attacks, and what will happen to existing dogs if the breed is banned. I've read testimonies from bully owners who love and trust their dogs, and from parents whose children were killed by them.

Then I was sent a social media link to a video of one of the two recent incidents that triggered the sudden push to outlaw the breed.

Warning: graphic content below which may be upsetting.

While footage of the attack in Birmingham which saw a young girl and two men who tried to help her bitten was widely circulated, footage of Ian Price - a Stonnall man who died from his injuries after he was attacked by two dogs believed to be XL bullies while trying to protect his elderly mother - was not, and for good reason.

The footage is harrowing, and as per requests of police and Mr Price's family I won't circulate it any further - nor do I recommend going looking for it. Mr Price clearly suffered a prolonged and painful death, and my heart goes out to his loved ones.

But the video shook me to my core. Those two muscular, enormous dogs - who reportedly jumped out of a window to get at him - went about their attack with calm focus, no barking or growling, undeterred by bystanders attempting to ward them off with a wooden post and a wheelie bin. Just looking for the next place to latch on, one repeatedly trying to go for the already bloodied man's throat.

I've also seen photos alleged to be of those very same dogs, cuddling with their owner on the couch, posed with a young child. I think only a court of law can decide what kind of an owner the dogs involved in the attack had and what part that played in what happened, but since the ban was announced I've seen countless photos like them.

People don't want to lose their pets, because pets after all are like family members. But it's not fair to an animal to expect it to forego what generations of its ancestors have been specifically bred and selected to do. It's not their fault, but they haven't been set up for success from the very beginning.

Fooling ourselves with cutesy photos or false equivalencies is not going to stop children carrying the scars of XL bully attacks for the rest of their lives, or people like Mr Price losing their lives. Sure, a chihuahua or a cocker spaniel could suddenly bite, but it doesn't have the inbuilt power to do this kind of damage.

No community needs an animal with the tendency or capacity to do this kind of lethal damage roaming around with little to no restriction. We love our house cats, but we don't keep pet lions.

But some parts of my previous opinion piece stand up. While banning XL bullies might get the breed behind a disproportionate number of attacks and deaths off the streets for now, it won't solve the UK's dog bite issue in the long run.

As groups like the RSPCA and Kennel Club have stressed, dog attacks went up in recent years. despite some breeds - like the pit bull and Japanese tosa - being banned in 1991. Crossbreeding and different rules overseas means some new, equally dangerous dog that has not been specifically outlawed could crop up at any time.

The government needs to look beyond a quick fix for the next election, which is merely slapping a Band-Aid over the problem. It needs to enshrine in law what sort of dogs, breeders, and owners we want in our communities, to make sure we and our canine companions can thrive together going forward.