XL bully owners take dogs on a final freedom protest walk ahead of the of ban

XL Bully owners have protested the upcoming ban on their pets with a "final freedom" walk.

Fans of the creatures took to the streets of Crawley on Sunday (December 17) as a "symbolic gesture to celebrate the freedom and innocence" of the controversial breed. It came two weeks before a government ban on the dogs comes into force.

From December 31 it will be illegal to sell, abandon, give away and breed XL Bullies and the creatures will have to be kept on a lead and wear a muzzle in public. While some have welcomed the new rules following a spate of attacks, others weren't so pleased.

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Katie Apling, one of the organisers of the walk told BBC Radio Surrey the prohibition affects the dogs and their families alike. "Please let us not forget that behind every wagging tail and soulful gaze, there is an innocent creature caught in the crossfire of legislation," she said.

The first stage of the new law comes ahead of an outright ban in February of next year, when it will become illegal to own an XL Bully in England and Wales without a Certificate of Exemption – which costs £92.40. Owners not given an exemption can claim £200 to put towards the cost of their pet being euthanised before January 31, 2024.

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The canines who are made exempt will need to be neutered by June 30, unless they are less than a year old. This is one of a number of restrictions owners will have to abide by in order to keep their pets – the dogs will also have to be microchipped.

There are six weeks left for owners to apply for an exemption. The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it had received more than 4,000 applications, the "majority" of which have been approved.

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The UK's chief vet Christine Middlemiss warned owners to act sooner rather than later. "Do not risk leaving it to the last minute if you want to keep your dog," she said.

"Owners should read the guidance and ensure they are ready to comply with the new rules. Please do not risk leaving it to the last minute. If you want to keep your dog, you should apply now for a Certificate of Exemption."

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