Dog attacks in England up 22% after dog population surged amid Covid

ITV News' North of England Reporter Kelly Foran reports, with words by Lucy McDaid, ITV News Westminster Producer

Dog attacks in England have shot up by 22 per cent in the past two years, with some areas seeing a surge as high as 60 per cent, according to figures obtained by ITV News.

Last month the prime minister said he would ban one particularly controversial breed, the XL Bully, by the end of the year, after a number of deadly attacks drew public outrage.

ITV News submitted Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to all police forces in England and the data shows a significant rise in the overall number of dog attacks since July 2021.

The police forces that responded to ITV News' FOI request documented 11,373 dog attacks between July 2021 and June 2022. During the same period the following year, there were 13,940 attacks reported.

Which areas have seen the sharpest increase since 2021?

  • 1. Gloucestershire - 62%

  • 2. Cambridgeshire - 52%

  • 3. Lancashire - 47%

  • 4. Bedfordshire - 40%

  • 5. Nottinghamshire - 31%

How does your area compare?

A total of 23 forces in England responded to ITV News' request for information.

According to the figures, the number of dogs detained under the Dangerous Dogs Act has gone up by more than 50% since July 2021.

This includes the number of banned dogs seized by police alongside those detained for being dangerously out of control.

Meanwhile, the number of dogs that have been destroyed under the Act in England since July 2021 has also gone up - by 30%.

The issue of dog attacks has been the focus of renewed attention due to a spate of fatal incidents involving the American XL Bully, prompting calls for the breed to banned entirely.

The mother of a young boy who was killed by an XL Bully in 2021 has previously criticised Ministers for failing to act quickly enough. Her son, 10-year-old Jack Lis, died when he was attacked in Caerphilly, South Wales. Two people were jailed.

Most recently, a man died in Walsall following a suspected XL Bully attack, while in the same month an 11-year-old girl was among three in an incident involving an XL Bully and Staffordshire bull terrier crossbreed puppy in Birmingham.

The majority of police forces in England are unable to accurately identify dog breeds when recording attacks, so the stark rise cannot necessarily be attributed to just one breed.

However, one veterinary surgeon told ITV News the population of the American XL Bully in England has grown "exponentially" over the past three years.

"We know that the dog population generally really grew during Covid. Everyone wanted a companion, wanted a puppy, and over that period all the breeds were becoming more popular," said David Martin, Group Head of Animal Welfare at My Family Vets.

"But since Covid, the one breed that has remained high in popularity and has grown in numbers is the American Bully, or some of the different varieties," he added.

Martin said that while many XL Bully owners defend the breed - in recent weeks protests have been held in cities across England in opposition to the ban - the reality is that "the vast majority" of aggressive attacks come as a result of "their breeding" and "ownership".

"It's not a problem that's purely related to the American Bully, but that's the breed that is currently fashionable," he explained.

Jack Lis was 10 years-old when an XL bully, called 'Beast', attacked and killed him in 2021.

Out of the police forces that responded to ITV News' FOI requests, only a handful were able to provide figures relating to the identification of XL Bullies in attacks.

But the information obtained did suggest a significant rise in the number of incidents involving the soon-to-be-banned breed in the months between July 2021 and July 2023.

In Northumbria, the number of cases involving an XL Bully went up from a total of 10 between July 2021 and June 2022, to 47 between July 2022 and June 2023 - a rise of 370%.

Ana Paun, 11, was a victim of an attack by an American XL Bully and Staffordshire bull terrier crossbreed puppy last month, prompting the Home Secretary Suella Braverman to intervene and seek a change in the law.

Credit: ITV News

Speaking to ITV News, Ana said she supports the proposed ban but is now scared to go out by herself, or even with friends.

She suffered shoulder and arm injuries in the attack, and had to have stitches in hospital.

The prime minister has assured members of the public he is working with experts to ban the American XL Bully Dogs by the end of year, admitting they "pose a danger to communities and public safety" when questioned by ITV News Central last week.

Mr Sunak assured "we'll have new laws in place" before the end of the year, but concerns remain rife about how a ban will work in practice when there are believed to be so many American XL Bullies already in the UK.

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