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All the claims made by Bully XL owners to defend the dog breed, debunked – inews

Mon 10 Jun 2024
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The incoming ban on American Bully XL dogs is controversial, particularly among the people who own them as pets, but also, perhaps surprisingly, among animal charities such as the Dogs Trust and the RSPCA.
Here’s a selection of the claims made in defence of the breed, and how true they really are.
It’s both. Specific breeds of dogs were created for specific tasks: the American Bully XL is from a line of dogs bred for fighting. That means that its physical and behavioural characteristics help it be a better fighter: it’s large, muscular, and highly tenacious. Regardless of how such a dog is raised and trained, it’s going to be more dangerous than other, smaller breeds.
That’s not to say that poor training and a lack of proper supervision and control couldn’t make things worse. Indeed, this is surely a contributing factor in several of the attacks we’ve seen recently.
Both the dog’s breed and its owner’s behaviour can render it dangerous.
This is true, but misleading. Any dog can become aggressive, or even violent. But regardless of how aggressive a Maltese gets, for example, it won’t be able to do much damage beyond a few nips and scratches.
An aggressive American Bully XL is another story: these are dogs that have been bred for fighting, have enormously powerful muscles and jaws, and, as tragically demonstrated in the recent death of a man in Staffordshire, are extremely hard to deter once they begin an attack.
This perhaps explains why American Bully XL dogs are now so dramatically overrepresented in UK dog bite statistics. Bully Watch UK estimates that although the breed make up only around 1 per cent of UK dogs, they’ve been involved in 44 per cent of attacks this year and 75 per cent of deaths in the last three years.
That makes them around 270 times more deadly than the remaining UK dog population.
One of the things Rishi Sunak mentioned in his statement about banning American Bully XL dogs was that he’d gather a panel of experts to properly define the breed. Does that mean that it’s difficult to even know what these dogs look like?
Given that dogs can be mixed with other breeds and appear at all different shapes and sizes, there will always be edge cases and uncertainties.
But it seems disingenuous to argue that there’s no definition of such dogs when several very detailed definitions, to which breeders and owners of American Bullies regularly refer, are available online.
There is simply no way to reconcile this statement, which is very commonly spread by breeders and kennel clubs online, with the statistics on attacks and deaths.
It’s also worth noting that several of the recent victims of American Bully XL dogs, both in terms of injuries and deaths, are children.
Even without any statistics, though, the claim doesn’t make sense on its face. It’s perverse to deny that a large, powerful dog from a breed originally designed for fighting and selected for muscularity will be dramatically more dangerous to have in your home than a cockapoo or a Jack Russell.
The Dangerous Dogs Act (1991), or the DDA, is the law under which the American Bully XL will likely be outlawed.
It’s true that the perception of the DDA is of a rushed, failed piece of legislation. Certainly the Act was hurried through parliament after a pit bull mauled a six-year-old child in 1991, and the legislation passed in one day. From then on, pit bulls and three other types of fighting dogs were banned in the UK.
Critics argue that by focusing on just these four breeds, the DDA doesn’t do enough to stop attacks from other breeds.
However, evidence from the US suggests that pit bulls are drastically overrepresented in the numbers of bite attacks. It’s plausible that the DDA prevented many such attacks here in the UK.
Many argue that the American Bully is a (more dangerous) variant of the pit bull, and UK breeders are thus exploiting a loophole in the law. The UK data from the last few years are at least consistent with this interpretation, implying that the dogs are particularly dangerous and aggressive, producing the disproportionate attack numbers noted above.
If that’s true, arguing that the American Bully should not be added to the DDA is like arguing that, although handguns are banned, we shouldn’t add modified, even more dangerous handguns to the banned list.
Nobody denies that breeders can be a problem: not only can they produce dangerously inbred dogs with serious behavioural problems and health issues, but they also sometimes engage in cruel and illegal practices like ear cropping and tail docking.
There’s no reason not to enforce existing laws against these practices, or even reform the law if that’s necessary. It doesn’t mean that we can’t also stop those breeders from breeding American Bully XLs. After all, if you’re worried about bad breeding, you should be even more worried when that bad breeding is combined with a fighting dog known for its size and aggression.
A dog can’t be innocent, or indeed guilty. As noted by the Oxford University philosopher Rebecca Brown, a dog isn’t a “moral agent” in that sense: laws about specific dogs of dangerous breeds are about preventing harm to humans, and often have the benefit of preventing harm to other dogs.
It’s not even that a ban would involve all existing Bullies being taken from their owners or put down – it’s likely they would be made to wear muzzles and be kept on a lead while outdoors, and neutered which would end the breed eventually, at least in the UK.
One side of the argument here is clear: as we just saw above, we know exactly what we’d do if a ban on American Bully XLs was to be enacted.
The other side isn’t. It’s completely unclear what kind of “education” would work to reduce dog attacks, not to mention who in particular it would be aimed at.
And a system where all dogs are licensed and owners made to do some kind of training sounds extremely difficult to arrange and pointless, given the vast majority of dogs aren’t particularly dangerous. The danger of this specific breed sticks out like a sore thumb, and so it makes sense for legislation to be targeted at it.
It took more than two decades between the banning of pit bulls and the appearance of the American Bully in the UK. If new dangerous fighting breeds arise, they can simply be added to the Dangerous Dogs Act ban list. It’s that straightforward.
This isn’t an argument against banning dangerous dogs, but it may be an argument to collect much better data on dog attacks, and ensuring that breed is accurately described each time.
It might be true that some people get a subversive thrill from owning something known to be dangerous. This could partly explain the popularity of American Bully dogs which skirt close to the borderline of being illegal pit bulls. Perhaps it’s similar to people who collect illegal knives, guns, or other weapons.
But even though such people exist, a ban will make it harder for the average person to get access to the breed, and will make it clearer to those looking to buy a dog that American Bullies are a substantial risk. Also, if a ban involves neutering all existing American Bullies, it’s hard to believe that this won’t reduce their availability, regardless of how attractive the ban might make them.
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