Shropshire Star

XL bullies: Panic and confusion for Shropshire's kennels and owners getting to grips with new rules

Preparing for a change in rules for XL bully dogs has caused confusion for owners and chaos for rescue kennels in Shropshire, according to one expert.

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An XL bully. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire

Under the new restrictions, XL bully dogs must be kept on a lead and muzzled in public, while breeding, selling or abandoning the dogs is illegal as of last Sunday.

Owners are being urged to apply for a certificate of exemption for pets they already own before the deadline of January 31.

From February 1, it will be a criminal offence to own an XL bully dog in England and Wales without a certificate.

But the RSPCA said the measures were “not the answer” and warned of a “huge risk” that rescue centres and vets will be unable to cope with a likely surge in demand.

Cheryl Gibson, owner of the dog walking and caring business Shropshire Canine Enrichment and the JD Foundation for rescue dogs, said the legislation left those helping dogs "on edge".

Cheryl has worked with dozens of rescue centres and 'pound pullers' - people who find homes or shelters for dogs so they will be saved from euthanasia - and said that the rules have "100 per cent" led to a sharp increase in dogs being given up.

"Everyone has been in a massive rush to try and get dogs into a loving, decent and safe home before the rules came in," Cheryl said.

For those who didn't find a home in time, it's a waiting game.

Cheryl explained: "There are a couple in a few of the kennels that are waiting for the Dog Legislation Officers to visit, they'll be able to say yes or no to whether they do or don't meet the definition and can be rehomed.

"Kennels don't have to put them down yet, but they'll be put to sleep if they can't keep them. Kennels just don't have the space to keep them for the rest of their lives, we'd have kennels full of XL bullies and there are hundreds of dogs in need of those spaces.

"It's a brick wall."

Since the legislation was announced, charities have been calling for clarification over the definition of an American bully XL, with owners left confused as to whether their dogs will be included in the ban.

The Government says a dog can be considered a bully XL if it is at least 20in (51cm) at the tallest point between the shoulder blades for a male, or 19in (48cm) for a female, and has a "substantial number" of defined characteristics.

Defined characteristics include a "heavy, large and broad" head, "prominent cheek muscles with strong, well-defined jaws and lips semi-close" and "often having prominent wrinkles on face".

Owners must figure out themselves if their dog fits the definition, by checking it against the Government's definition.

Cheryl said the stress and confusion over the legislation were having an impact on some big dog owners' mental health.

"I think that's the biggest issue," Cheryl said. "What is a 'substantial' amount of characteristics? People are doing measurements at different points of their dog's bodies and everyone's really confused, we need clarification."

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recommends owners take "a precautionary approach" and they should "comply with all new requirements for this dog type" if they are unsure.

Cheryl, who adopted one of the dogs herself just before Christmas, will be applying for an exemption for her latest addition - just in case.