'Suella de Vil's' sudden anti-XL bully stance seems more likely to backfire than fix our dog bite problem

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
If the government targets one specific breed as opposed to bad owners, who knows what kind of frankendog backyard breeders will come up with next

It's clear irresponsible ownership of potentially dangerous dog breeds like the American "extra large" bully have become a problem of enormous proportions for the UK - one with a real human toll.

But when all of the UK's major animal charities and dog experts seem to agree that banning them is not the answer, it raises serious questions about Suella Braverman seeking urgent advice on the matter.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Home Secretary has taken aim at American XL bullies - a fairly new dog breed capable of causing a lot of damage - after a video of a young girl being attacked by one of the dogs, which also injured two men who tried to help, went viral over the weekend.

This sounds all well and good. After all, in the wrong hands, American XL bullies have shown they are far more of a risk - and far more deadly - than the average dog.

Bullywatch - a UK group that tracks dog attacks by breed - reports so far this year, large bully-type dogs have been involved in 351 attacks, making up 43% of 2023's total dog attacks. They have been responsible for 11 confirmed human deaths since 2021 - as well as having suspected involvement in three other deaths.

CCTV still of Beast, an XL bully who went on to kill 10-year-old Jack Lis, barking at a man outside a store in Caerphilly (Photo: PA Wire/Gwent Police)CCTV still of Beast, an XL bully who went on to kill 10-year-old Jack Lis, barking at a man outside a store in Caerphilly (Photo: PA Wire/Gwent Police)
CCTV still of Beast, an XL bully who went on to kill 10-year-old Jack Lis, barking at a man outside a store in Caerphilly (Photo: PA Wire/Gwent Police) | PA

The human toll behind these numbers is devastating. Like 10-year-old Jack Lis, who died after he was attacked by an XL bully called Beast, at a Caerphilly property in 2021. Beast had a history of behaving aggressively towards strangers, and both of his owners were jailed for owning or being in charge of a dangerously out of control dog.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Jack's mum, Emma Whitfield, asked where Braverman's support had been when her son died. "It’s crazy how this video has gone viral and now politicians are coming out of the woodwork saying how bad it is," she posted on X - formerly known as Twitter.

"Where were you when my son was killed? Where were you when other innocent people were killed? Where were you when I was at Parliament asking for change?"

She asked Braverman to "stop pussyfooting around" breed-neutral legislation and take action, and to consider doing something about the backyard breeders and the "thuggish owners ruining lives too".

There's something in this, and despite apparent disagreement on the value of breed-specific legislation, the UK's leading animal charities and expert groups think so too.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A spokesperson from the Dog Control Coalition, which is made up of the RSPCA, Battersea, Blue Cross, Dogs Trust, BVA, Scottish SPCA, The Kennel Club and Hope Rescue, said they were all "incredibly concerned about the rising number of dog bite incidents", and their biggest priority was to protect the public.

However, they said it was clear that breed-specific legislation has not worked for the UK so far. Four breeds, including the pit bull, were banned in the UK in 1991, with the introduction of the Dangerous Dogs Act. But the legislation has coincided with a troubling increase in dog bites and fatalities, with Bullywatch also reporting that dog attacks have shot up a whopping 435% since 2013.

The coalition says this "shows that this approach simply isn't working".

“Sadly, the increased popularity of American XL bullies has made them valuable commodities, resulting in irresponsible breeding, rearing and ownership, which can all contribute to an increased likelihood of aggression in dogs, regardless of breed," they said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"However, the view of all leading animal charities is that the solution is not banning more types. Instead, the government needs to focus on the improvement and enforcement of current breeding and dog control regulations, and on promoting responsible dog ownership and training.”

After all, the pit bull terrier was banned after a spate of dog attacks in the 80s, and now we have the XL bully - a still legal but bigger and arguably more dangerous dog descended in-part from pit bulls - clearly causing a deadly problem.

If the government latches on to just one facet of the problem, banning this specific breed, who knows what kind of frankendog the backyard breeders and irresponsible owners who use powerful dogs as status symbols will come up with next?

Maybe Braverman should drop the "Suella de Vil" act, which leaves caring, responsible owners fearing for their beloved rescue pup's future, and look into solutions that will really make a difference.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Maybe she should consider a training and licencing scheme for prospective owners of any dog capable of seriously hurting a person, to weed out the people who are only buying big dogs to look tough. Or maybe she should look into bankrolling a legal crackdown on poor and reckless breeding practices, to make sure every dog entering our communities is set up for success from birth.

Speaking of bankrolling, what about financial support for owners struggling with their dogs' behaviour to get help from an an Animal Behaviour and Training Council-registered clinical behaviourist? Or heck, even considering lifetime pet bans for people who have been found guilty of owning criminally dangerous animals - or of neglect, abuse, or otherwise harmful practices like ear-cropping.

One only has to turn to social media to see countless examples of bull breed dogs happy and thriving, and bringing a lot of joy to loving owners, in the right hands. But the numbers don't lie, they're not a dog that just anyone should be allowed to own or breed - the harm they have the potential to do is just to great.

The renewed public interest in American XL bullies is a real opportunity for the government to make meaningful change and tackle some serious problems with dog ownership, to create a safer future for people and dogs alike.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.