A judicial review hearing has been granted for campaigners seeking to overturn the UK government’s ban on XL bully dogs, with owners of the animals now subject to tight restrictions as the legislation comes into force.
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From Sunday, it is illegal to rehome, sell or transfer ownership of XL bully dogs in England and Wales, and they must be muzzled and kept on a leash when in public, with animal rescue centres fearing they could be forced to euthanise hundreds of dogs.
The campaign group Don’t Ban Me – License Me applied for an injunction to pause the ban, which was not granted, but a judicial review hearing was approved for January, which could halt or change the new rules if successful.
The group, which wants better education and licensing of dogs instead of a ban, said it had been backed by more than 600,000 petition signatures, as well as animal welfare and dog behavioural experts.
Owners have until 31 January to apply for a certificate of exemption if they wish to keep their pet, which involves having the animal neutered, microchipped and covered by third-party liability insurance. From that point it will be a criminal offence to own an XL bully without one.
The RSPCA has been vocal in its opposition to the ban, saying owners had not been given enough time to prepare for the new rules and any XL bully dogs not rehomed by New Year’s Eve would have to be put down.
In a statement, the organisation said the lack of dog legislation officers able to identify breeds meant it was difficult to say exactly how many XL bully dogs were in their care, but it was thought to be more than 200.
“We’re still hopeful that there’ll be a judicial review in mid-January,” Dawn Smith, a welfare operations manager at the RSPCA told the BBC. “Dogs that haven’t got owners is what we are concerned about, because they will not have anyone to take responsibility for them, and thousands of dogs will be put to sleep.”
The RSPCA said a number of animals were not in a position to be rehomed by the deadline “due to behavioural or medical reasons”, and staff were facing the “heartbreaking” prospect of seeing them euthanised.
XL bullies were added to the Dangerous Dogs Act on 31 October, in response to a number of serious attacks and fatalities involving the breed, giving owners two months to prepare for the first stage of restrictions.
Shops selling dog muzzles said they had been inundated with orders, and had been forced to develop larger sizes to fit XL bully dogs, while training courses teaching owners how to muzzle their dogs safely had been booked up.
Meanwhile, those who support the ban say they have been subjected to abuse and threatened.
The environment secretary, Steve Barclay, said: “The prime minister pledged to take quick and decisive action to protect the public from devastating dog attacks with measures in place by the end of 2023.
“We have met that pledge: it is now a legal requirement for XL bully dogs to be muzzled and on a lead in public. It is also now illegal to breed, sell, advertise, gift, exchange, abandon or let XL bully dogs stray.
“All XL bully owners are expected to comply with the law and we will continue to work closely with the police, canine and veterinary experts, and animal welfare groups, with further restrictions on XL bully dogs coming into force on 1 February.”