Hope beyond ban for XL bully types
A dog owner who has gone through the exemption process tells her story...
“Life isn’t the same – it’s different, but it’s just as good.”
That’s the key message from Anita Medhi – whose dog Lola has been living under breed specific legislation restrictions for nearly five years – ahead of the looming deadline for registering to keep XL bully types.
Seven-year-old Lola, an American bulldog cross staffie, was seized in 2019 without warning and deemed to be a banned pitbull type by police, whose assessments are based on a set of characteristics rather than DNA.
Despite being terrified, with only strangers in unfamiliar surroundings, and without any of her own toys or blankets for comfort, sweet Lola passed her behavioural assessment in police kennels with flying colours.
But Anita, who had immediately gathered heartfelt testimonials about her beloved pet’s wonderful temperament from those who knew her, then had to apply through the courts to place Lola on the exempted dogs’ index.
This was successful, and she and her husband were reunited with Lola that day – three days after she was seized.
There are strict conditions applied to dogs on this register, including never leaving the house without wearing a muzzle and lead.
XL bully type owners need to apply to have their dog placed on the exemption scheme by 31 January to comply with the law and keep their much-loved pets.
And Anita is on a mission to reassure all owners worried about living under restrictions, especially the prospect of walking their dogs on a lead and muzzle for life, that there can be a happy future ahead.
Lola was left traumatised by her short time in police kennels – which XL bully owners can avoid by applying to the scheme – and even began toileting in the house due to stress, something she had never done before.
So, muzzle training on top of this was no easy task, and Anita turned to the Blue Cross Behaviour Service for help.
She says: “The recommendation was that we didn't even try the muzzle to start with because she was just such a sensitive dog. To begin with, we were told to get a pencil and hold it to a cheek. This was to get her used to something touching her cheek and we prolonged the length of time we held it there.”
Anita then progressed to feeding Lola with one hand and a muzzle in the other, to help her associate it with positive things. She also kept the muzzle in her kibble bag, so that it smelt of food.
From there, she began showing Lola the muzzle and rewarding her with tasty treats, before placing the treats inside of it and allowing her to sniff and eat them.
After weeks of desensitisation work, Anita could then start encouraging Lola to slip her nose inside the muzzle in return for some squeezy cheese. Gradually, Lola spent more time with her nose in the muzzle and would allow Anita to fiddle with the straps at the same time, before beginning to wear it for short periods.
Within two months, Lola had gone from trembling at the sight of her muzzle to slipping it on without complaint.
But Anita, whose garden was vital in giving Lola time outside before she could wear the muzzle to walk in public, says that the process took longer than normal due to Lola’s sensitive nature and the trauma of her police seizure.
She says: “The best advice I can give is to take it slowly. And if you think you're taking it slowly, take it even slower. I don't think you can take it slow enough – it just can't be rushed.”
Although walks aren’t quite the same for Lola, who previously loved to interact with other dogs and play a game of fetch in the park, Anita stresses that she still has a “nice and happy life”.
The family often rent out private enclosed land for Lola to explore and even take her on “freedom holidays” where they’re surrounded by privately owned secure fields so that she can run around and enjoy life as a typical dog.
At home, Anita also does lots of work to replace the enrichment that Lola misses out on during walks due to wearing a muzzle, which restricts her sniffing and interaction with other dogs. This includes online training classes at home and “scent adventures” around the house and garden.
Anita continues: “When dogs are not interested in going on a walk because of the muzzle, there are so many different options you can do to bring them that enrichment in the house.
"All these games can tire them out just as much as big walks because it's using all the senses and the brain. Lola always has as much of a good sleep after we've done things like that as she would if she had gone on a long walk.”
Anita hopes that Lola’s story will inspire the families of the thousands of much-loved XL bully types in the UK to apply for the exemption scheme rather than feel forced into giving up their pets for compulsory euthanasia.
She says that Lola is living proof that there’s “life after a muzzle and lead.”
“I was absolutely devastated when it happened to Lola,” adds Anita. “I just thought that life was never going to be the same again. And it's not the life she had before, but it's still a good life and she still lives it to the full.”