The home secretary, Suella Braverman, has announced that she is seeking urgent advice on banning American bully XL dogs, after a video of an 11-year-old girl being attacked by one of the dogs in Bordesley Green, Birmingham, went viral on social media. The girl suffered serious injuries and two men who tried to intervene were also bitten and taken to hospital. The dog was seized by the police and is likely to be euthanised.
Braverman said that the attack was “appalling” and that the American bully XL breed was a “clear and lethal danger” to the public, especially children. She said that she had commissioned advice from experts on how to outlaw the breed, which is not currently recognised by the Kennel Club or subject to any specific legislation.
What is an American bully XL and why are they so popular?
The American bully XL is a type of dog that originated in the US in the late 1980s, when American pit bull terriers and American Staffordshire terriers were crossed with other breeds to create a more muscular and powerful dog. The United Kennel Club in the US says that an American bully “makes an excellent family dog” and that “despite its powerful appearance their demeanour is gentle and friendly”. However, it also notes that “dog aggression is characteristic of this breed”.
There are four variations of the American bully: standard, pocket, classic and XL. The XL is the largest and heaviest, weighing up to 60kg (9.5 stone) and standing up to 51cm (20 inches) at the shoulder. The breed has become popular among some owners who seek a status symbol or a guard dog, as well as celebrities such as rapper Snoop Dogg and footballer Raheem Sterling.
According to Bully Watch, a group of London-based policy experts, the breed first appeared in the UK “around 2014 or 2015” and that numbers grew rapidly during the pandemic. “Lots of people started buying with the intention of breeding,” a spokesperson said. “There’s models of co-ownership where you get the dog for free but the dealer gets to breed from it.”
How dangerous are American bully XLs and what can be done to prevent attacks?
American bully XLs have been involved in several high-profile attacks in recent years, some of them fatal. In April, a 65-year-old grandmother was killed after she tried to break up a fight between her two American bullies at her home in Liverpool. The coroner noted that she had been found with “catastrophic injuries”. Last year, a 17-month-old toddler was mauled to death in her own home by one of the dogs in St Helens, just a week after her family had bought it.
Richard Baker, an NHS consultant surgeon, told BBC News that because the dog has “such powerful jaws, the wounds are worse compared to other breeds”. “In [American bullies] its a crushing or a tearing injury,” he said. “Once they grip they don’t let go. That kind of injury is more damaging than smaller dogs.” He said that American bullies break bones, shred skin and damage nerves. “If the nerves are damaged and can’t be repaired – which is often the case if its ripped out – it is common to form a source of ongoing pain,” he said.
Some campaigners have called for a ban on the breed, arguing that they are inherently dangerous and pose a threat to public safety. Braverman’s announcement has been welcomed by some victims’ families, such as Emma Whitfield, whose 10-year-old son Jack Lis died after being mauled by an American bully in Caerphilly, south Wales. She said that she had been campaigning for a change in the law for years and that she hoped that no other family would have to go through what she did.
However, animal charities and experts have opposed breed-specific bans, saying that they are ineffective and could lead to thousands of innocent dogs being put down. They say that the problem lies with irresponsible breeding, rearing and ownership, and that more focus should be on education, enforcement and prevention. They also point out that the American bully XL is not recognised as a specific breed in the UK, which could make it hard to define and enforce a ban.
There are currently four banned breeds of dog in the UK: the pit bull terrier, Japanese tosa, dogo Argentino and fila Brasileiro. It is against the law to own, breed or sell these dogs, unless they are exempted by a court. However, it is also against the law to have any dog that is dangerously out of control, regardless of its breed or type. This can result in prison sentences of up to 14 years, unlimited fines or euthanasia of the dog.