U.K. pet owners could be facing a tough road ahead if they own a certain breed of dog, thanks to a new ban proposed by government officials.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced Friday a plan to bar what he calls the "American XL Bully" dog from the U.K., following a series of attacks that have been blamed on the breed. This law would not only make it an offense to own, breed, gift or sell an XL bully, but may also give authorities permission to confiscate animals, even if they that do not have a record of aggression.
While owners would have the opportunity to apply for a court-ordered exemption, they could also be subjected to heavy fines and potential jail time.
Sunak called the dogs “a danger to our communities" during the announcement, where he also shared the rule will go into effect by the end of the year.
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
The act would add the American XL Bully breed to an existing list under the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991, which currently bans the Pitbull terrier, Japanese tosa, dogo Argentino and the fila Brasileiro.
However, the "American XL Bully" is not a breed recognized by the U.K.’s Kennel Club and has not otherwise been defined, meaning officials need to first determine in certain terms what dogs qualify as being part of the breed.
According to a statement released by Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Thérèse Coffey, the government plans to "convene experts to define the ‘American XL bully’ breed type. This group will include police, canine and veterinary experts, and animal welfare stakeholders."
In another statement, she referred to a series of recent attacks, including a deadly attack on Thursday and one earlier in the month involving an 11-year-old girl. "Dog attacks are devastating for victims and their families and it is clear that more now needs to be done to stop them and protect the public," the statement reads. "That is why we are taking decisive action to ban the American XL Bully."
U.K.’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Christine Middlemiss told BBC over the weekend that there will be an "amnesty" plan in place, which will require owners who already have the dogs to follow staunch guidelines. Keeping your family pet will entail registering it with the government, muzzling and leashing it when outside at all times and purchasing insurance.
"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," she told the outlet.
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Experts, citizens respond to proposed ban
While multiple groups have advocated for the ban to be put in place, especially following the series of suspected attacks, experts including veterinary groups and international animal welfare organizations have spoken out in opposition. A petition called "Bad owners are to blame not the breed - don't ban the XL bully" has also gained widespread support, receiving over half a million signatures in just a few days.
A spokesperson from the Dog Control Coalition, made up of RSPCA, Blue Cross, Battersea, Dogs Trust, Hope Rescue, Scottish SPCA, The Kennel Club and British Veterinary Association, said in an emailed statement: “The recent incidents are deeply distressing, and our thoughts are with all those involved and affected. The biggest priority for everyone involved is to protect the public - but banning the breed will sadly not stop these types of incidents recurring."
The organization criticized the proposed legislation for what it called a lack of data and evidence. In the over 30 years since the Dangerous Dogs Act was put in place, dog bites and attacks have only increased, according to the organization. This is because banning certain breeds doesn't address the root problems, which they say are unscrupulous breeders and irresponsible owners.
“The coalition urges the Prime Minister to work with them to fully understand the wide-reaching consequences of his decision to ban American bully XLs, which will have significant impacts on owners, the animal welfare sector, vets, law enforcement and the public."
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Could a similar bully breed ban happen in the US?
Breed restrictions are not entirely uncommon in the U.S. and are sometimes written into housing contracts, insurance plans and city ordinances. Sometimes, the restrictions reach a state level, something that organizations like the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) actively fight against.
According to ALDF Strategic Legislative Affairs Manager Alicia Prygoski, the reason experts fight these blanket bans is that they are ineffective and ignore other, more successful techniques.
"Restricting dogs based on their appearance or perceived breed is a drastic reactionary policy move that is not effective and it has the potential to tear families apart and put countless dogs and responsible guardians at risk," she told USA TODAY. "There are safe alternatives, there are alternatives that will help facilitate safer communities and protect both dogs and humans."
Prygosk shared that instead of breed restrictive policy, lawmakers should focus on education, guardian responsibility and breed neutral dangerous dog laws. These would entail things like enforcing leash laws, targeting reckless dog owners and breeders, protecting animals against abuse and fighting, and bolstering community education and sources around proper and responsible dog ownership.
"Studies have shown that when these alternatives are prioritized versus implementing a knee jerk breed-based restriction, incidences of aggression and biting decrease," Prygosk shared.
While she called the news out of the U.K. disappointing, she said that trends here in the U.S. have been more encouraging. In recent years, governments at all levels across the country have made the decision to repeal what Prygosk called "outdated" ordinances restricting or banning breeds outright.
Several states like Florida, Illinois and Colorado have also implemented legislation to prohibit local governments from making breed-restricting policies in the first place and barring the same restrictions within insurance coverage and public housing.
On a federal level, the Pets Belong with Families Act was re-introduced to Congress in June, which would prohibit restrictions on pets in public housing based on breed.
"It's really clear that there is momentum for doing away with these antiquated breed based restrictions and there's significant recognition that alternatives to these policies are more effective in keeping communities safe," said Prygosk. "It's a really encouraging trend that we're seeing across the country and we're going to keep fighting to ensure that it continues."
While there are still some municipalities in the U.S. that have these restrictions, Prygosk said the overall trend is moving in the opposite direction. It is highly unlikely a ban similar to that proposed in the U.K. would go into effect here, she shared, as more and more of our existing laws targeting dog breeds are being squashed.
"Our hope is that as we're trying to do away with these unfair policies at all levels of government, those municipalities will see that shifting the focus away from dog breed and toward responsible dog guardianship and common-sense breed, neutral laws will actually keep communities safer," Prygosk said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: XL bully breed: New UK ban could take dogs from owners