Owning an unregistered 'XL Bully' dog will become a criminal offence in England and Wales from Thursday under government plans to phase out the powerful breed that has been blamed for fatal attacks on humans and other animals.
The ban, ordered last year by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after a string of high-profile maulings and a public outcry, has thrown the spotlight on a breed beloved by its owners but whose size and strength makes it a status symbol for some and an object of fear for others.
Sonia Faleiro, a 46-year-old writer, described an attack in a London park by three dogs identified by police as XL Bullies that killed her pet Jack Russell, Zoey, traumatised her and her daughter and left her husband - who intervened - needing treatment for injuries.
The XL Bully breed was introduced to Britain in the 2010s. It is a cross of several breeds, including the American Pit Bull Terrier. The dogs' size and strength have made them a target for those taking part in illegal dog fighting.
More than 30,000 XL Bullies have been registered for an exemption certificate which allows their owners to keep the dogs under strict conditions, including wearing a muzzle in public and sterilisation to prevent breeding.
Owners caught without an exemption face unlimited fines and up to six months in prison.
The Campaign for Evidence Based Regulation of Dangerous Dogs (CEBRDD), which supports the ban, said its research showed the number of fatalities from all dog attacks in England and Wales had risen from around three per year prior to 2021 to around 10 per year in 2022 and 2023.
The number of fatal attacks is not recorded by breed at Britain's Office for National Statistics. It showed 16 deaths caused by "being bitten or struck by a dog" in 2023.
From police statements, Reuters was able to confirm at least one fatal attack by a suspected XL Bully type breed in 2023. Reuters contacted seven victims of reported attacks or their family members. Of the four who responded, none were willing to speak publicly.
'DON'T BLAME THE DOGS'
Terry Wigzell, who lives with two XL Bullies, said the ban unfairly targeted the dogs and not the people responsible for the public perception of the breed: irresponsible owners.
"You can't just judge him because of the way he looks," he said. "When I put his muzzle on and I take him for his walk. He sort of looks at me ... I think he might think I'm punishing him."
Announcing the ban in September, Sunak described the dogs as "a danger to our communities, particularly our children".
"I share the nation's horror at the recent videos we've all seen," he said, referring to an online clip of a non-fatal attack on an 11-year-old girl at a petrol station in Birmingham.
"It's clear this is not about a handful of badly trained dogs, it's a pattern of behaviour and it cannot go on."
Britain's largest animal welfare charity, RSPCA, said urgent action was needed to protect the public but opposed breed-specific legislation.
"Breed is not a good or reliable indicator of risk of aggressive behaviour," said RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr. Samantha Gaines.