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RSPCA fears consequences of XL Bully ban as December 31 deadline arrives





The XL Bully ban is taking a ‘heavy toll’ on owners, rescue centres and veterinary teams – who could be faced with having to now put healthy dogs to sleep – says the RSPCA.

XL Bully dogs have to be muzzled and on a lead when out in public under the new rules in force from New Year’s Eve.

The government says it has acted after a ‘concerning’ rise in attacks. Image: iStock.
The government says it has acted after a ‘concerning’ rise in attacks. Image: iStock.

It is now illegal to breed, sell, or give away an XL Bully – with the law also now applying to rehoming charities which had until now been permitted to continue searching for owners for those in their care.

The government’s decision that the breed will now be affected by the Dangerous Dogs Act also means current owners have a month left to apply for an exemption certificate that’ll permit them to keep their animals after 1st February.

But Dr Samantha Gaines, dog welfare expert at the RSPCA, says with increasing reports of dogs being surrendered or abandoned, the charity fears as the deadline hits, problems will get worse.

She explained: “The ban on XL Bully dogs not only remains devastating for so many dogs, it is also taking a heavy toll on owners, on rescue centre staff who have grown close to dogs in their care and to veterinary teams who face the prospect of being asked to put to sleep healthy dogs whose behaviour poses no risk.

“There is a huge danger rescue centres and the veterinary profession will not be able to cope with the demands put on them by this law.

“We urgently need more information and support from the government so we can help support owners and dogs that will be affected by this ban but we will also need help and support to get through this too.”

The government moved to list XL Bullies under the Dangerous Dogs Act after what it has described as a ‘concerning rise in fatal attacks’.

But the new rules have been met with upset and confusion by owners and animal lovers as well as organisations like the RSPCA.

Here’s the latest on the ban:

The XL Bully breed is now subject to tough new rules. Image: iStock.
The XL Bully breed is now subject to tough new rules. Image: iStock.

The definition of an XL Bully

American bully XL dogs are related to the pitbull terrier, from which they were originally bred. However, these days they are also likely to be crossbred with other breeds such as American bulldogs and Olde English bulldogges, which are taller and heavier than their English counterpart.

Owners who aren’t clear as to whether their animal may be an XL Bully type have been offered advice from official definitions published on the government website, put together when the planned ban was first announced.

Classification, it says, involves checking the dog’s physical characteristics but this can be done by owners and doesn’t require the dogs to be taken away for inspection.

However, the RSPCA is among those to call into question what it says are ‘broad legal definitions’. There are also concerns surrounding puppies and dogs not yet fully grown, who some argue can’t be adequately assessed under that criteria until ‘fully mature’.

Dr Gaines added: “While we are doing all we can to reassure owners, there remains confusion around how best to interpret the government's definition of an XL Bully.

“While it is now clearer that minimum height is a mandatory requirement for a dog to be defined as an XL Bully, there has been no guidance to help owners understand what is meant by a substantial number of the other characteristics being used to decide whether or not a dog is considered ‘type’.”

Owners with the breed have to register their dogs and keep them muzzled in public. Image: iStock.
Owners with the breed have to register their dogs and keep them muzzled in public. Image: iStock.

Exempt dogs

Households who wish to keep their dogs have until the end of January 2024 to register them with the government and apply for an exemption certificate.

More than 4,000 of these documents have been issued so far, say ministers, with most arriving within a week.

Owners keeping their XL Bully pets must now comply with strict requirements. Alongside the dogs being muzzled and kept on a lead in public, they must be microchipped and also neutered by 30th June if an older dog – or by the end of the year if the animal is under a year.

From 1st February 2024, it will become illegal to own an XL Bully dog if it is not registered with the Index of Exempted Dogs. Any owner without a Certificate of Exemption for their animal will face a criminal record and an unlimited fine if they are found to be keeping an XL Bully type, and their dog could be seized.

Owners who instead choose to give up their animal to be euthanised, says Defra, will be supported and helped with compensation costs.

The RSPCA fears some owners are struggling to understand if their dogs are XL Bully breeds. Image: iStock.
The RSPCA fears some owners are struggling to understand if their dogs are XL Bully breeds. Image: iStock.

Those in shelters

Until 31st December, the RSPCA and other organisations had been able to continue rehoming XL Bully type dogs. But now the new law is in force this has to stop.

A message on the RSPCA website explains: “Until 31st December, we and other rehoming organisations are able to continue rehoming XL Bully types. After this time it will become illegal to rehome to members of the public and we are seeking further information from the UK government about what this means. This is a difficult time for our staff who have been caring for dogs who are likely to be affected.

“We're concerned about what support will be offered by government to rescue centres to fulfil the requirements of this ban, which will be very difficult for staff and vets to carry out.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

The Dog Control Coalition – made up of organisations including the RSPCA, British Veterinary Association, Dogs Trust and Battersea – had called for a delay to the ban.

In a letter to the Prime Minister on 20th December the coalition appealed for owners, rescue centre staff and vet teams to be given more time ‘to do the best for the dogs’ in their care.

It wrote: “We strongly oppose banning any breed, as it is unfair on responsible owners and their dogs, and has historically proven to be ineffective in keeping the public safe.

“However, in the absence of a decision to reverse the ban, we are calling on the government to extend the unnecessarily short deadline for the ban to come into force so owners, rescue centre staff and vet teams can act to do the best for the dogs in our care.”



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