Hundreds of the animals have been advertised for sale online in the weeks since a ban was proposed, and within hours of Rishi Sunak’s confirmation, a fresh surge of them appeared on selling sites, including pets4homes.co.uk and social media.
But without information on what to do with existing XL bullies, it’s feared owners will try to get rid of them as quickly as possible because they will likely no longer be able to sell them legally after any ban.
The XL is the largest of four types of American Bully, and was cross-bred for fighting, with a muscular body. It can weigh 9 stone and has a powerful bite.
One breeder posted on Facebook that they were seeking a home abroad for their 18-month-old, and many animal lovers are predicting large numbers will be killed en masse.
A 52-year-old Ian Price died in Staffordshire this week after being attacked by two suspected American bullies, while reportedly trying to save his mother. An 11-year-old girl and two men were also injured by an American bully XL in a separate attack in Birmingham last weekend.
Trevor Cooper, a lawyer and dog law expert, told The Independent that after Mr Sunak’s announcement, which lacked detail on what owners should do, his firm had had many calls from owners.
“There’s a risk people will abandon dogs or take them to rescues but what are rescues supposed to do with a breed that’s going to be banned?” he said.
“We could be facing at least thousands or tens of thousands of animals affected.”
He questioned where police resources to enforce the ban would come from and where dogs would be kennelled, and warned courts would not cope.
The Animal Adoptions UK account warned: “Unscrupulous breeders bred large dogs, inexperienced owners bought them and then abandoned them.
“People buying these dogs as status symbols will switch to other large breeds or imported dogs. Charities across the UK do not have the capacity to deal with the extra welfare issues this will create.”
Many other people on social media also predicted irresponsible owners would abandon their XL bullies or have them put to sleep.
The cost-of-living crisis has already forced swathes of pet owners to give up their animals, and rescue centres are overflowing, many having to turn away unwanted cats and dogs.
Last year, XL bullies had in some cases been selling for more than £1,000 – or in the most extreme cases, tens of thousands of pounds, according to the RSPCA.
Dog behaviour expert Jordan Shelley called for a licensing system. “This won’t keep people safe and will kill so many innocent dogs,” he wrote on social media.
“The people that use and abuse these dogs will just move to a different type,” he continued. “The only way to keep people and dogs safe is to introduce ownership licensing and education and ringfence the money from it for enforcement.”
Ira Moss, founder of the All Dogs Matter charity, said there had been a rise in people abandoning the breed since a ban on XLs has been discussed this year. They have been receiving about 20 calls a day from people who have changed their minds about owning them.
“We are getting calls from people saying they’ve grown too big, ‘we don’t want it any more’. The name XL is a clue,” told Radio 4’s The World at One.
“People buying them tend to be more irresponsible,” she said. “We’re hearing of dogs tied up on balconies all day.”
The Kennel Club said it was urgently seeking clarity on what the news meant for owners, but strongly advised owners not to take any further action until guidance was confirmed.
Lawrence Newport, a legal academic who has campaigned for a ban, says the breed is the most dangerous in British history – 270 times more deadly than the rest of the dog population.
Statistics showed the Dangerous Dogs Act was effective in reducing deadly attacks on people, he said.
The Environment, Food and Eural Affairs Select Committee is due to urgently look at what can be done with existing dogs and whether to introduce licensing or muzzling.
A spokesperson from the Dog Control Coalition – comprising the RSPCA, Blue Cross, Battersea, Dogs Trust, Hope Rescue, Scottish SPCA, The Kennel Club and BVA – said banning the breed would not stop attacks.
“The UK government must tackle the root issue by dealing with the unscrupulous breeders, who are putting profit before welfare, and the irresponsible owners whose dogs are dangerously out of control.”
Anneka Svenska, host of a show on show produced by GreenWorldTV, said: “This will result in thousands of gentle and innocent dogs being removed from their families. The attacks lie with a few dogs that have been bred by backyard breeders using poor temperament adults.”
But Elisa Allen of animal-rights organisation Peta said a ban was “the logical and responsible thing to do to safeguard the public”.
Defra later said there would be a transition period. “Further details on how the transition period will work will be provided in due course. Current XL Bully dog owners do not need to take any action,” it said, but they must come forward once the transition period starts.