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XL bully row erupts as RSPCA criticises Government over ‘confusing’ ban

Government ban on owning American XL bullies will come into effect in February
Government ban on owning American XL bullies will come into effect in February - Dogs Trust

The RSPCA has criticised new Government American XL bully guidance, complaining it has confused owners over whether their dogs will be classed as the banned breed.

The animal welfare charity has demanded clarification over the guidance which lists a series of characteristics and suggests a dog is an XL if it meets a “substantial number”.

In November, the Government published an “official XL bully definition” to provide owners with guidance on whether their pet would be regarded as the breed.

It comes as a ban on owning these types of dogs is set to be introduced in February.

In the guidance it suggests that if a male dog is 20in (51cm) at the withers, the tallest point below the neck and head. For females this should be 19in (48cm).

The guidance also lists more than 30 characteristics and suggests that if a dog matches a “substantial number” of these, it can be defined as an XL bully.

These include having a “heavily-muscled body”, a “heavy and broad head” and a “broad deep chest”.

The RSPCA has now criticised the guidance, suggesting that there are thousands of owners who are unsure whether their dog meets the criteria and could be banned in 2024.

The charity has received more than 50,000 unique visitors to its own bully XL advice page since it was launched in early September after the announcement of the ban.

An RSPCA spokesman said: “We believe this indicates the deep concern and desire for clarity from pet owners over the recently-announced XL bully legislation.”

“While we are doing all we can to reassure owners, there remains confusion around how best to interpret the UK Government’s definition of an XL bully.”

From Feb 1 2024, it will be illegal to own an American bully XL in England and Wales.

There will be exemptions for some dogs, if an owner has third party insurance against injuring people, and it has been neutered.

The new laws come in response to several attacks involving the breed.

These include the death of Ian Price, a businessman from Stonnall, near Walsall in the West Midlands, who died after being attacked by what police believe to be two American XL bully dogs.

On announcing his decision to ban them, Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, said: “It is clear this is not about a handful of badly trained dogs – it’s a pattern of behaviour and it cannot go on.”

However, the decision has been met with opposition from XL bully owners who stress that the attacks come from a tiny percentage of the XL bully population.

This includes Ben Spencer, a rugby player in Bath, who is campaigning for Mr Sunak to reverse his decision.

Mr Spencer said: “Obviously, public safety is everyone’s number one. It is what everybody wants. Rishi’s doing his job too, to protect the public.

“But for me, this isn’t about one breed because take pit bulls for example, there’s more registered pit bulls now in the UK than there were in 1990 when they got banned.

“So, banning a breed and then thinking that this will solve the problem is quite clear that it won’t.”

Rugby player Ben Spencer with his xl bully dog
Ben Spencer is campaigning to reverse the ban on the breed - Lee Thomas

Others have spoken out about the confusing guidance, raising concerns over whether their pets will come under the ban.

Robyne Reid, of Cannock, Staffordshire, told the BBC that she believed her dog Vinnie met the characteristics of an XL bully, despite not being bred as one.

“His dad is a Neapolitan Mastiff-Great Dane cross, and his mum is an American bulldog... He’s got more of [the characteristics] than not.”

“I feel like Vinnie’s been penalised because of the way he looks, not because of his breed.”

Sophie Russell, from Kent, also told the BBC that she was unclear on whether her adopted 18-month-old dog will be banned.

She said: “She does come over 19in and she probably has some of those characteristics, but it’s so vague and so open to interpretation.”

“Why is there not someone that I can take her to? Why are there not people trained already that I can take her to and say, ‘is she, or isn’t she?’.”

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said it has published guidance and a picture bank to help owners determine whether their dogs fall under the ban.

They said: “If owners are unsure whether their dog is an XL bully, they should take a precautionary approach and comply with the relevant requirements and restrictions as they come into force.

“If someone has a dog that is clearly another established breed, such as a Rottweiler, the XL bully ban does not apply.”