XL bully owners undergo muzzle training in Milton Keynes

  • By Nicola Haseler and Helen Burchell
  • BBC News, Buckinghamshire

Image source, Nicolas Haseler/BBC


Maddie Bell-Ashe introduces Annie, the XL bully, to a muzzle

Owners of American XL bully dogs say public backlash against their pets has increased since Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced plans to ban the breed earlier this month.

The XL is the largest type of American bulldog breed, which is a crossbreed of American pitbull terriers, American bulldogs, and English bulldogs.

XL bullies have been suspected in several recent attacks.

We spoke to owners who were preparing for the new legislation by taking training to get their dogs used to muzzles, but they are concerned about the “stigma” associated with wearing them.

“A massive defender of the muzzle”

Image source, Nicolas Haseler/BBC


Maddie Bell-Ashe said owners had already noticed others were wary of their unmuzzled dogs

Maddie Bell-Ashe is a trainer at TLC Dog Academy and Walking, in Hanslope, near Milton Keynes.

“I’ve always been a strong advocate of muzzles,” she says.

“If this ban is effectively enforced, the cost to homeowners – in a cost of living crisis – will skyrocket.”

She says some owners worry about the prospect of muzzling their dogs because they notice other people are already wary because of their pet’s size.

“There’s a huge stigma attached to it; they’re already afraid that people will think they’re aggressive and now, if they have to muzzle their dog, they’re even more worried about it,” she says.

“If they are not muzzled and they are reported, or if they are arrested, the police come by and if your dog is not used to being muzzled, he is seized, they take him to the kennel and… it’s better to just keep them safe and not deal with the subsequent emotional trauma, both for the dog and the owner.

She admits to being a big fan of the breed and regularly walks three XL bullies.

“I love them…they’re just ridiculous, they just want love and they’re really willing to listen. They can be a little more work sometimes – but they work well.”

However, she added: “They have bigger mouths and we cannot ignore the damage they have caused.”

“They can be incredibly gentle and many of them are more afraid of their own shadow than anything else.

“It’s a small minority that breeds them for protection, but if a dog has the right training and the right owners, they won’t be the cause of these bites.”

“He gave me a life”

Image source, Nicolas Haseler/BBC


Josie Shanahan says her service dog, Mars, kept her from being a housebound recluse

Josie Shanahan suffers from autism and mental health issues and brought her assistance dog, Mars, from Exeter for the training course.

She says: “Mars is an XL American bully and I got him when he was 13 weeks old – we qualified him in six months, which is a very quick turnaround.

“It soothes my anxiety, it helps me ground my emotions, and it helps me access the community.

“I had no life before I had him; I was a recluse; I couldn’t leave my house – he gave me a life.”

Mars is trained to recognize problems before its owner, especially when its blood sugar levels drop or heart rate increases due to anxiety.

Asked about the ban, Ms. Shanahan said she “understands, but I don’t completely agree.”

“They are a minority of the breed and their actions now bring judgment from the majority of the breed – and I don’t think that’s fair.”

She worries if a ban comes into effect: “Mars might not be able to do its job.”

“He loves his job and he wouldn’t have the same life without it.

“But what worries me the most is that even though it’s only been a week, he’s already on trial and people are already crossing the road, they’re looking at him strangely.

“During my trip, about half the people looked at him like he was going to eat their face – but he’s not like that.”

“No one takes it away from me.”

Image source, Nicolas Haseler/BBC


Loretta Carson says her dog Annie took her out when she had cancer

“I’m here purely and simply to protect my dog,” says Loretta Carson, who confronted her 120-pound XL bully 18 months ago.

Mrs Carson, from Newport Pagnell near Milton Keynes, and her dog Annie are inseparable.

“I had cancer, so for five months I stayed at home,” she says.

“I live alone and she was there 24/7, so the bond we formed during that time was wonderful.

“It made me get up twice a day to walk her – she is my world.”

When asked about potential new laws and bans, she says: “I just want to be one step ahead of making sure I make the right choices so it doesn’t get taken away from me.

“Yes, there is good and bad in everything and, yes, it is upsetting, but I understand that they have to do something.

“It’s not always the dog, it’s the way they’re raised. You have to take responsibility for something this big and something had to be done.”

She also experienced negative comments while traveling with Annie.

“Even now, people yell at me, ‘You should muzzle that dog,’ and I kind of say, yeah, not yet. I will, when he comes, but I don’t feel the need to do it now.

“And I want her to get used to it, gently, and when it happens, it won’t fall on her and make her sad.

“If we have to do this, this is what we have to do. Nobody is going to take that away from me.”

“Tarnishing the race”

Image source, Nicolas Haseler/BBC


Laura Molloy and Bruce

Bruce is 15 months old and weighs 62kg (9.7 stone).

He came from Northampton with owner Laura Molloy, who says that with the rules on muzzles and a potentially looming ban, she “didn’t want to put my dog ​​in the situation of not wearing a muzzle – of having to wear a muzzle “.

“He’s not a vicious or aggressive dog but I don’t want to scare him.”

Ms Molloy says that during a visit to a vet, Bruce barked “because he was scared” and the vet “put a muzzle on him… so now when a muzzle comes near him he barks – not in an aggressive way – but he’s scared again.”

“Bruce is a family dog; he’s the most affectionate dog I’ve ever had.”

Hearing the recent news about XLs, she is “absolutely distraught because you are tarnishing a breed for a few dogs that are out of control.”

“It’s my choice to make sure my dog ​​is trained and that’s why we’re here.”

She says she will do “everything to ensure his safety and that he will remain in my care, no matter what.”


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