As an MP and the only veterinary surgeon in the House of Commons, I have been working hard on Parliament’s response to the recent spate of attacks reported to be by American XL Bully dogs.
While I am resolute that we sadly must ban the American XL Bully in the short term in the interest of public safety and the safety of other dogs and animals - I am utilising my veterinary background to try move the discourse beyond headlines and towards a long-term holistic approach to reducing dog attacks. Please do read my thoughts in full as published in the Daily Express below.
Dr Hudson's article:
Banning the dangerous American XL Bully Dog is the right thing to do
It is with a heavy heart I put pen to paper. Indeed, over recent months I have joined the nation in collective horror at the violent and horrific attacks perpetrated by American XL Bully Dogs, attacks both on people and animals, sadly with some consequent fatalities.
I have watched the shocking videos circulating, and we have heard from the victims and their families with sadness. It is clear to me just how much of a threat these dogs are, and so we must act swiftly. The Prime Minister, Home Secretary and Leader of the Opposition have all called for these dogs to be banned. As an MP and the only veterinary surgeon in the House of Commons, I agree with this approach. The ban is coming and therefore we must look to make it work to protect both human and animal welfare.
This issue is incredibly close to my heart not just because of the clear human and animal suffering but because I have actually handled dangerous and aggressive dogs in veterinary practice and witnessed first-hand the profound stress and trauma caused for all concerned.
I believe there is enough cross-party support on this issue; the public largely are in favour and I will support the Prime Minister as he takes evidence-based legislation through Parliament. However, I am now focusing my professional background at what comes after the ban and to reforming the Dangerous Dogs Act more broadly to take into account the multitude of associated factors. Currently there are four types of dogs banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991: the pitbull terrier, Japanese tosa, dogo Argentino, and fila Brasilerio.
Firstly, it is clear to me these American XL Bully Dogs themselves are uniquely dangerous. With an incredibly muscular jaw structure, their size and power are formidable. Those on the larger side can weigh around 50-60 kg, as much as some grown humans. Sadly, many of these dogs have been bred for extreme and exaggerated features and indeed some of them have had their ears horrifically cropped – a procedure banned in the UK and one that has no clinical benefit at all for the dog. For some unscrupulous breeders these dogs are commodities to be sold as status symbols.
Definitive dog attack statistics are unclear but there very much is a perception that many of the attacks on humans and other dogs in recent years are committed by the American XL Bully – with the numbers tragically rising when it comes to fatalities. This is not to mention the attacks on livestock and other pets which we are addressing in separate legislation.
Clearly, we need a ban.
That said, politics is rarely as simple as it is portrayed and so we must address the nuance so Government has all available evidence to hand when finalising the legislation.
For starters, experts are not all in agreement about what an American XL Bully actually is. In fact, these dogs are not a breed at all but a type. Developed by crossbreeding a range of dog types, American XL Bullies are not recognised by the Kennel Club and there is significant anatomical variation within the type and overlap with other types. Only arriving in the UK in recent years, Government has engaged with police, veterinary and animal welfare experts and local authorities to now produce a breed type definition and it is important to now work with stakeholders to ensure that other dogs are not inadvertently caught up in the ban.
On top of that we need to address what happens to current American XL Bully populations. Now as a veterinary surgeon I cannot support the calls in some quarters calling for a mass cull. Instead, I draw readers’ attention to Christine Middlemiss, the UK Government’s Chief Veterinary Officer, who has said publicly that a ban on breeding and buying XL Bullies should be dovetailed with work to manage the current population. The Government has now just published guidelines that if a dog is deemed safe, it can be registered with authorities, neutered, insured and then kept on a lead and muzzled when out in public. This must be done with the utmost sensitivity for the brilliant animal shelter charities that are already overwhelmed by an ever-increasing demand for spaces and so owners should be supported throughout the process.
On the nuances of legislation, the ban already sits in the context of a wider debate on breed versus deed. In other words, do you legislate for the type of dog being kept or the actions committed by individual dogs? While many veterinary and animal charities advocate a deed-based approach, I respectfully disagree because once the deed is committed, it is already too late. With a deed-based approach, the grim attacks we’ve seen over recent months would have still happened - children would still be maimed and tragically fatalities still mourned.
Another factor to consider is unscrupulous individuals who will almost definitely try to circumvent the ban by breeding another type of aggressive dog to be flaunted as a status symbol. Henceforth, any action on breed should coincide with a push to better educate the public.
Work is already being undertaken on responsible breeding, responsible ownership, better training, and socialising of dogs and while this is an effective long-term solution, change does not come overnight. Therefore, with the alarming number of attacks, it is clear to me that we need action urgently to ban American XL Bullies in the first instance.
So, what comes next? Well, as a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee we are already putting in the hours to protect human and animal welfare. In fact, I have triggered an official Parliamentary Inquiry into Pet Welfare and Abuse looking at the dramatic changes we’ve seen in pet ownership since the pandemic and the range of issues this has spawned. The increase in dog attacks is just the tip of the iceberg and comes with a host of other issues such as inhumane smuggling operations, puppy farms and so-called unregulated ‘canine fertility clinics’ which all look to meet demand for dogs such as American XL Bullies. As part of this Inquiry, I chaired an emergency public parliamentary session on American XL Bullies on October 18 dedicated to gathering evidence from a range of witnesses on this issue and the impact of the proposed ban.
But this ban by no means represents an end to all debate. As the first veterinary MP to sit in the Commons since 1884, I am committed to looking at longer-term reform to the Dangerous Dogs Act considering breed and/or deed – as well as the host of other issues I have mentioned. I will be debating the issue at the London Vet Show in November, engaging with a broad spectrum of stakeholders, and working alongside Ministers and politicians from both sides of the House to get pragmatic legislation across the line and make sure we get the ban right.
But let me be clear, we must go ahead with the ban and get it right to stop these brutal attacks and keep people, animals and our communities safe.