What is an American XL bully? Breed explained as Suella Braverman calls for ban on 'lethal' dog after 'appalling' attacks

An 11-year-old girl, and two men who tried to intervene, were involved in an "appalling" attack over the weekend by an American XL Bully

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Suella Braverman is pushing for a ban on "lethal" American XL Bully dogs after an 11-year-old girl in Birmingham was attacked on Saturday (9 September).

Braverman said they are a “clear and lethal danger”, particularly to children, and has announced she has commissioned urgent advice on outlawing the dogs.

West Midlands Police said the child was bitten as she ran past the animal while it was being walked by its owner in Bordesley Green. Two men intervened but were also bitten and left with injuries to their shoulders and arms.

Adding dogs to the banned list is the responsibility of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) under the environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey. The PA news agency understands there are concerns within DEFRA over adding the American bully to the list as the dog is not recognised as a specific breed by the Kennel Club, and a ban could end up outlawing a range of other dogs.

Earlier this year, a mum from South Wales has launched a campaign calling for the UK's dog laws to be tightened after her 10-year-old son died after being mauled by a controversial XL - or extra large - American bully. Emma Whitfield, 32, lost her son Jack in November 2021, and says she is still plagued by flashbacks of the attack.

Her campaign for the 'Jack Lis Law' is backed by the Mirror, the Dog Control Coalition – which includes the RSPCA, Dogs Trust and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home – and Caerphilly’s Labour MP Wayne David. They are calling for a different approach to dog legislation which includes all dogs and focuses on breeding, training and the sale of dogs.

Ms Whitfield fears certain dangerous breeds have become “status symbols” - with puppies of the supersized XL Bullies selling for as much as £10,000. “To me it is not different than having a lethal weapon,” she said.

American XL - or extra large - bullies (left) are a comparatively new dog breed derived from American pit bull terriers (right) (Picture: NationalWorld/Adobe Stock)American XL - or extra large - bullies (left) are a comparatively new dog breed derived from American pit bull terriers (right) (Picture: NationalWorld/Adobe Stock)
American XL - or extra large - bullies (left) are a comparatively new dog breed derived from American pit bull terriers (right) (Picture: NationalWorld/Adobe Stock)

Caerphilly MP Wayne David echoed her sentiment, quoting police in saying "there is more money in selling dogs for some criminals than selling drugs", after a BBC investigation revealed close ties between extreme bully breeding and organised crime gangs.

The RSPCA agreed, with head of companion animals Dr Samantha Gaines adding: “The Dangerous Dogs Act has failed to protect the public from the risk of bites, we want a new approach. It is also essential measures are available to deter and punish owners of dogs whose behaviour is dangerous.”

Many dog breeds considered dangerous like pit bulls are illegal in the UK. So what exactly are XL bullies, and how - when they are derived from and larger than most pit bulls - legal? Here's everything you need to know.

What is an American XL bully?

The American bully is a comparatively new dog breed from the US. Its first official breed registry, the American Bully Kennel Club (ABKC), was founded in 2004.

The foundation breed used in its creation was the American pit bull terrier - but the ABKC says as many as four other dog breeds went into its creation, including the American bulldog and the English bulldog.

It comes in a range of size categories, from pocket-sized, to XL (extra large) or XXL. Extremely large varieties of XL and XXL Bullies can weigh upwards of 60kgs - sometimes as much as 90kg - and are considered very strong.

The ABKC says the American Bully "should give the impression of great strength for its size", and should have a muscular body and "blocky" head. "The American Bully should have the appearance of heavy bone structure with a bulky build and look," it said.

There is a general consensus the breed has the potential to be dangerous. In 2021, two of the four fatal dog attacks in the UK involved an American bully, while in 2022, they were involved in six out of 10 fatal dog attacks.

Why are they legal in the UK, while pit bulls are not?

The XL bully is not recognised as an official breed by the UK’s Kennel Club. It is a fairly new breed, while the UK's Dangerous Dog Act legislation was passed in 1991. On top of that, it was a crossbred.

Caerphilly MP Wayne David previously said: “incredible though it may seem to many, the dog which attacked Jack Lis, an American XL Bully, is not listed as a dangerous dog," the Birmingham Mail reported.

But he said the solution was not for the breed to simply be added to the list. "There are many types of dogs... which you could argue ought to be on the list."

There were two fundamental problems with this approach, he said. "One is that [is] because there is more and more crossbreeding, it is virtually impossible to maintain any kind of legislation which contains an up-to-date list. Secondly, proscribing certain breeds of dogs gives the erroneous impression that only listed dogs are dangerous and does not take into account how a dog is kept and trained."

What other dog breeds are banned in the UK?

According to the UK government, there are four dog breeds banned in the UK.

Besides the pit bull terrier, these include the Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, and Fila Brasileiro. The Tosa and Dogo Argentino were originally bred as fighting dogs, with the Japanese Tosa still used in legal dog fights in their home country of Japan today.

The Fila Brasileiro was originally a working mastiff breed, with its name meaning to hold, arrest, or grab. The breed was long used on plantations to chase down runaway slaves and return them to their owners, when slavery was still legal in Brazil. Being bred for this purpose has lead to them being considered dangerous in incapable hands.

It is also illegal to sell, abandon, give away, or breed from a banned dog in the UK.

If you are found to own a banned breed, the police or local council dog warden can take your dog away, even if it isn't acting dangerously. You can be given an unlimited fine or be sent to prison for up to six months for having a banned dog, and the dog may also be destroyed.

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