Owners of American XL bully dogs will not face a cull of their pets, the UK’s top vet has said, after the Prime Minister pledged to ban the breed.
Campaign groups have hailed the promise to ban the dogs by the end of the year after a series of attacks prompted calls to put the breed on the Dangerous Dogs Act list.
But questions remain about how exactly a ban will be implemented and enforced, with concerns about the challenge of defining the dog breed given its cross-bred nature.
Chief Veterinary Officer Professor Christine Middlemiss said that coming to a “consensus” on that definition would be one of the first things officials would do.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she also confirmed that an “amnesty” approach would mean there would not be a cull of the dogs.
“There will be an amnesty. So people that already have these dogs – and some of them will be well socialised, well managed, well trained – you will need to register and take certain actions.
“Your dog will need to be neutered. It will need to be muzzled when out in public and on a lead and insured.
“But if you comply with these actions, and that means we’ll know where these dogs are, which will be a massive benefit, then yes, absolutely you will be able to keep your dog.”
Such an approach would echo that taken when pitbulls were banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act in the 1990s.
The ban comes after a man died after being attacked on Thursday by two dogs – suspected to be bully XLs – in Staffordshire.
It’s clear the American XL Bully dog is a danger to our communities.
I’ve ordered urgent work to define and ban this breed so we can end these violent attacks and keep people safe. pic.twitter.com/Qlxwme2UPQ
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) September 15, 2023
Mr Sunak used a video on social media to promise that the Government would “ban the breed under the Dangerous Dogs Act and new laws will be in place by the end of the year.
“These dogs are dangerous, I want to reassure the public that we will take all necessary steps to keep people safe,” he said.
He also said that he had ordered ministers to bring together police and experts to define the breed of dog behind these attacks so they can be outlawed.
Prof Middlemiss said: “We will work with veterinary experts, dog experts, the police and other agencies who have been involved with these dogs and our animal welfare NGOs so we can come to consensus on the type of dogs we have been seeing that are doing these attacks and an appropriate breed definition.
“And that will be one of the first pieces of work that we have to take forward.”
The decision was welcomed by campaigners but other groups – including the RSPCA and the Kennel Club – said banning American XL bully dogs would not stop attacks.
Lord Baker, the architect of the Act during the Sir John Major era, said American XL bully dogs should be “neutered or destroyed” once the ban has come into force, with any permitted to live being “muzzled for the entire time”.
Speaking to LBC, the Tory peer said: “It should be done almost immediately because this is a very dangerous breed and it has actually killed children and attacked other people, and I do not accept the views of the Kennel Club and the RSPCA that breeds should not be banned.
“This dog is, in fact, bred in order to fight and to be aggressive. It has already done enough damage and the Prime Minister is absolutely right to add it.”
Labour, while supportive of the ban, criticised the Prime Minister for “dithering” over bringing in restrictions on their ownership.
Sir Keir Starmer told broadcasters: “There has been a clear case for banning them for a long time. What I say to the Government is good, get on with it, and the sooner we can do this the better.”
Backers of the ban have rejected suggestions that the decision was made despite a lack of data and evidence.
Legal academic Dr Lawrence Newport told Times Radio: “We actually know that bans work, because we’ve had one in place on pitbulls since 1991.
“That ban has been very successful. And we know that because for example, in the UK, we have half the per capita deaths to dogs that the US does, and that difference is entirely explained by pitbulls.”