All is not lost, it seems, in the effort to prevent the XL Bully from being added to the proscribed dogs under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
The Licenceme Group (sic) has raised £150,000 and has already instigated a process which may end in judicial review and could, if successful, perhaps overturn breed-specific legislation altogether.
Licensing probably isn’t the answer to the problem that BSL is trying to address though. It will simply become a tax on dog ownership and irresponsible and criminal elements will evade it. Forgery of paperwork is comparatively easy and there will still be nowhere near enough resources to police the licensing.
We have a model of the problem already with the Pet Passport Scheme which is being roundly abused to allowed the illegal importation of thousands of street dogs as well as puppy farmed dogs, some under the legal age for leaving their mother. None of the national parliaments have done anything about this, so how would a dog licence be any different?
Whilst an overturn of this ineffective legislation would be welcome, a licensing scheme is not a solution to poor breeding and purchasing practices and until we address this, the next “XL Bully” type problem is just aorta d the corner.
There was a lot of wasted breath, words and time spent by those who know considerably more about the problem than the government – indeed who have to deal with the consequences – in trying to explain why this is a colossal error.
Presumably the government thinks that it can get some easy Brownie points and gain popularity with the red tops by doing this. It surely couldn’t have been because it has learned the lessons from banning the so-called pit bull.
Just as with many kennel club breed standards, it is impossible to work out what dog is being described, the DEFRA “definition” of an XL Bully is so wide as to encompass pretty much every large bull breed. Most police officers don’t know one end of a dog from another so it’s likely that a lot of heartache will ensue and a lot of dogs will be condemned to restricted lives without cause or good reason.
Unlike the previous bans, the government are proposing to offer compensation of £200 (£100 for a “rescue” dog) if owners wish healthy dogs to be euthanised. Currently, the British Veterinary Association policy on euthanasia supports fully vet’s right to refuse to euthanise a healthy animal. Quite what the position will be with a proscribed dog remains to be seen.
It is likely that some owners, perhaps many owners, will not be able or willing to pay the £92.40 required to register a dog deemed to be an XL Bully in addition to the cost of neutering and obligatory insurance. Vets are already under pressure, and the prospect of perhaps many hundreds of owners requesting neutering or euthanasia is unlikely to be able to be accommodated within the timeframe allowed by the law. It will be illegal to re-home, sell, buy or transfer ownership of an XL Bully dog to another person, including rescues, from December 31st, 2023.
The prospect of maybe hundreds of dogs simply being abandoned doesn’t bear thinking about, but it is a very real possibility.
I just hope that I am proved wrong.
Accordingly, the Welsh Government has a web page with advice on responsible dog ownership and has called a summit comprising representatives from local government, the police, public health, third sector organisations and canine welfare and public safety campaigns.
This is so much better than the knee-jerk response implementing a ban on XL Bullies from the UK government. Such a response makes it easy to rabble rouse (surely with an eye to forthcoming elections) but does nothing to resolve a grave issue from recurring time and time again. BSL is also expensive and has resulted in the compulsory euthanasia of thousands of dogs that have never been a problem and were never going to be, not least those condemned under the vague designation of being a “pitbull”.
EFRA has released a report on Breed Specific Legislation recommending a focus on prevention through education and early intervention including training courses for dog owners who commit low to mid-level offences similar to the speed awareness courses for drivers.
As with the broken window theory, dealing with this at the lower levels of offences tackles the roots of the problem. It won’t prevent every incident but it may save a lot of dogs and owners from heartbreak.
Where Wales has taken a lead, we should follow.
Griffiths claimed that “9% of land animals are killed” to provide dog food. This refers to a study led by Knight. Whether or not that is an accurate figure, it ignores the fact that most animal derivatives in dog food are by-products. That is to say, they are the bits that humans don’t eat. The animals would have been slaughtered anyway. If none of those by-products were used for animal feed, they would then have to be incinerated or go into landfill.
A peer-reviewed systematic review of the effects of feeding a “vegan” diet to dogs and cats is promoted on Knight and Griffith’s web site; perhaps in the hope or knowledge that most people won’t click on it or read it in full. The summary is worth quoting in some detail:
The stupidity of the decision to ban the XL Bully knows no bounds. Yet again, the government ignore the weight of peer-reviewed science just as they did with Covid-19, and prioritise a populist response. Nothing to do with pending by-elections and a general election of course.
Once German Shepherds were demonised and the Staffie was the Nanny Dog and then they were demonised and became the media’s”devil dogs”. Now it is another bull breed derivative.
It seems the government is not prepared to learn the lessons from listing the so-called pit bull and we will have yet more perfectly fine dogs confined to leads and muzzles for no good reason and worse – owners will be obliged to neuter so that we will effectively be reducing the pool of dogs with good temperaments. More so-called expert witnesses will be polishing their callipers ready to measure those massive heads – how many millimetres over their limit does a bully have to be to be condemned even if it has done nothing?
There is a serious problem and that has led to so many injuries and fatalities this year but it is far more complex than sticking a type of dog on a list. Whether it’s a large dog confined to a council flat or a dog walker unable to cope with too many dogs, the problem lies with breeding, purchase and ownership.
This was a missed opportunity to improve the legislation regarding breeding and responsible ownership, a missed opportunity to support behaviourists and trainers who are trying to deal with the consequences and a missed opportunity to save lives.
XL bullies are already being dumped and now will probably be culled as, once the legislation is enacted, it will be illegal to exchange or sell them. Responsible owners will be demonised and, right now, I am thinking of the delightful XL Bully bitch that my puppy was romping with last week. She was well-trained and well cared for and, despite being three times the size and weight of my puppy had perfect play manners.
Rishi Sunak might like to consider that his own chosen breed, the Labrador is a restricted breed in Ukraine and they feature high on the list of dogs causing injury in the UK. Of course, the Labrador has excellent PR – puppies rolling around with lavatory paper, Guide Dogs; but anyone that has been on the receiving end of an aroused Labrador may have a different view, as might the person who like me, had a whale of a time playing with an XL Bully.
There are concerns about pricing, access to prescriptions and medications and the variety of services that are available.
In the days of Alf Wight, most vets were self-employed and often worked out of their home, much as GPs did. They did all their own out of hours work. It certainly wasn’t as rose-tinted as Wight portrayed in his James Herriot books (for a more accurate portrayal see Gareth Steel’s Never Work With Animals, Harper Collins, London, 2022) and options open to vets were several limited. Most people also had few expectations that small animals could be helped by vets in many situations and prophylactics, if used, were primitive.
Veterinary treatment options have expanded out of all proportions and people often expect the same high standard of treatment for their companion animal as they do themselves. This has to be paid for. The difference is that, shielded by the NHS where, however poor we may perceive it to be at times we do not pay at the point of receipt of care, owners therefore rarely understand how high the costs are for the provision of that treatment.
Small animal practices have changed too. They moved out of private homes into high streets and now, even independent vets often need to have more than one practice in order to survive in a competitive market. Meanwhile, independent practices were consolidated into groups and the groups are being bought out by venture capitalists. At this end of the chain, vets have little or no control over policies, practices or prices. Just as the corner shop became the high street emporium and then the out-of-town shopping “village”, the consolidation takes the individual vet further away from the business and the clientele and ultimately leads to far less choice for the client.
That’s capitalism folks.
Fortunately we still have some checks. The CMA have 3 surveys:
For owners who have paid for veterinary services within the last 3 years
For veterinary staff
For anyone not in the above 2 categories with an interest.
The survey will be open for “up to 6 weeks” which suggests that it may close earlier if sufficient responses are received.
Local authorities are introducing an increasing amount of Public Space Protection Orders in parks and green spaces limiting dogs.
On the surface, it is legislating for what should be reasonable etiquette, but it is also making those spaces seem very hostile for dog owners. I was shocked when visiting a local park that I hadn’t used for a while (I am blessed with a myriad of choices) to encounter sign after sign prohibiting dogs and dog owners from using a space or threatening fines for not picking up or having dog muzzled or on a lead. I felt unwanted as soon as I walked in. I might add that a couple with two out of control children were outside of the area set aside for their offspring and allowed one of them to slam right into my puppy who was quietly walking past on a lead. Not a hint of an apology for their lack or control or the potential to frighten my dog, needless to say. If my dog had reacted, I can soon see who would have been blamed.
Whilst I support the aim to create responsible dog ownership, this is not backed up with education or support for training. That same park would charge me a hefty annual fee for the privilege of walking in the restricted spaces if I were to use it to train clients and their dogs. It is easy to see that it could be perceived as easy money and a grabbing of low hanging fruit should a dog owner miss faeces (who hasn’t lost it at one time or another?) or have not noticed that their poo bags had fallen out of a pocket.
Although there is no agreement between surveys as to whether dog ownership has increased substantially over the last three years, the perception in many areas is that it has, and the PDSA PAW Report 2022 found that a large percentage of new owners were young. It would be interesting to know also how many were first time owners. Again, anecdotally, that seems to have increased. Alongside inexperience, there are little or no resources enabling local authorities to educate dog owners as to their responsibilities and no support for the qualified professionals who do.
Playing with sticks is dangerous for dogs and unwise for local authorities. Carrots on the other hand are good for both.
At last legislation is due to come into force on February 1st, 2024 to ban shock collars in England.
However, there is a strong lobby that regards shock collars as the only way to prevent livestock worrying and members of the House of Lords who happily boast of using them on their companion dogs. It is 23 years since they were banned in Wales, a country with 11 million sheep and just 3.1 million people.
There is plenty of research that shows that severe punishment – and we are talking about electrocution after all – does not work and research that shows that shock collars cannot and do not deliver a reliable measured shock. It is illegal to electrocute children, why are dogs any different?
We cannot take the passing of this legislation for granted, Lobby your MP and write to DEFRA in support.
The Royal Mail is running its annual Dog Awareness Week as it announces a horrific increase in injuries to postal workers.
There were 1,916 incidents involving dogs and postal workers last year – an average of 37 a week or 5 per day.
902 incidents (47%), took place at the front door, 515 (27%) in a garden, drive or yard and 118 (6%) of attacks in the street. 381 (20%) injuries occurred via a letterbox and such incidents prompted a High Court ruling in 2020 enabling prosecution of anyone in charge of an animal that causes injury to any person making a delivery, regardless of whether the owner is at home.
Royal Mail workers lost 3,014 days to injuries in 2022/23 with one severely injured worker being absent from work for 139 days.
Territorial guarding is common in dogs – and indeed something for which we have selected for in breeds. Many owners like the idea that their property is being “looked after” by a dog when they are absent. However, one of the reasons that injuries are increasing, apart from an increase in dog ownership, is that owners are no longer taking responsibility for their dogs, either when they are present or when dogs are left on their own.
Simple and inexpensive measures could prevent all postal workers from being injured.
- Keep your dog away from the front door – it’s safer for your dog and safer for visitors. Use a child gate or close inner doors
- Supervise your dog when in a garden, especially near the front door. This will also prevent theft
- Fit a letter basket to the front door – it will also stop your post from being damaged by your dog
- Obtain professional help if your dog has serious aggression problems.
Remember, it is not the dog’s fault – YOU are responsible.
It has been an appalling year already for serious injuries and fatalities involving dogs.
The Met alone seized 479 out-of-control dogs under the Dangerous Dogs Act in 2022 146 more than in 2021. 154 dogs had already been seized by May this year.
44 of the seizures were XL bullies, compared to 16 Staffie crosses. No American bulldogs were seized in 2018 or 2019 by the force. In the UK overall in 2022, there were nearly 22,000 cases of out-of-control dogs causing injury. In 2018, there were just over 16,000, the UK’s dog population having been estimated to have risen by only 15% in the same period of time.
The reasons for the rise in incidents are complex, but include poor breeding and rearing, poor handling and ignorance of owners plus the minority who deliberately want their dogs to be perceived as intimidating.
There is a push for XL bullies to be added to the list of banned breeds but this would not solve the problem. In fact, yet more legislation will do little but to enable the police and other agencies to deal with the “low hanging fruit” unless considerable resources are committed to back up the legislation that we already have and which is rarely enforced. This would go a long way to preventing back street breeding, illegal boarding and out of control dogs.
Dogs have always been used to exemplify the perceived status of their owners – and that applies as much to the Labrador and spaniel (“my other house is an estate”) as to the XL Bully (be scared of my dog, be scared of me). Demonising whatever the latest fad is in dog breeding ignores the elephant in the room that all dogs have the potential to be dangerous in the wrong hands and under the wrong circumstances.
Research proves that BSL has failed everywhere it has been tried: research and statistics prove that the Dangerous Dogs Act has been an abject failure. Let’s not allow MPs to tick a box, add a breed and then think that their job is done. It won’t save lives.