MIRROR Online: LONDON, By Chiara Fiorillo – A dog behaviour expert has warned about the dangers of a “super-breed” during an inquest into the death of an experienced dog walker who was mauled to death by an American Bully XL.
Ian Symes, 34, was walking a “powerful” dog that was “pure muscle” and weighed 52kg (8st 3lbs) at a public park in Fareham, Hampshire, when the animal overpowered him, the hearing was told.
The dog walker had been looking after the dog, named “Kong” for a friend who had bought the pet the previous day over Snapchat from travellers – and did not receive any paperwork.
The Bully XL – which shares DNA with banned American Pit Bull Terriers – reverted to its “aggressive” natural instincts and repeatedly bit down on Mr Symes’ neck after he began playing with it, Portsmouth Coroners’ Court heard.
The dog, that had not been “socialised”, punctured the man’s jugular vein, “crushed his voice box”, caused “widespread mangling”, and “ragged” him around on the ground.
American Bully XL destroyed by police after mauling dog walker to death in park
Mr Symes was an experienced dog walker – Facebook
During the inquest, animal expert Dr Candy d’Sa, who assessed Kong after the attack, gave a stark warning about the Bully XL breed which she said has been “genetically modified” from banned Pit Bulls.
Dr d’Sa said of the 10 Brits killed by dogs in 2022, five were mauled by the new “super-breed” which has only existed for around 15 years and is “bigger and stronger” than their prohibited relatives.
Dr d’Sa said she believes Mr Symes, one of the five to have been killed in 2022, died when “rough play” with Kong quickly turned into “predatory behaviour” and its “prey drive” kicked in.
Mr Symes, who weighed 7st 12 lbs (50kg) and was 5ft 10ins, screamed for help as he was mauled to death at the recreation ground which is popular with children and other dog walkers.
He suffered unsurvivable neck injuries as well as face and head injuries. Kong was later destroyed.
Mr Symes, who previously owned Rottweilers, had experience in handling larger dogs, the inquest heard.
Mr Symes suffered unsurvivable neck injuries – Facebook
He and Paul Keltie, who he lived with next to the park in Fareham, were looking after Kong on behalf of neighbour and friend Callum Jones.
Mr Jones bought Kong the day before for £650 from travellers after seeing it advertised on Snapchat and warned Mr Symes and Mr Keltie not to walk it alone as it was so “strong”.
Kong had been kept in kennels at the travellers’ site and was dehydrated and being toileted on a balcony when he arrived at Mr Jones’ flat.
Dr d’Sa said a tea towel found next the dog and Mr Symes’ body may have been used for “ragdoll-like” play, which she said was dangerous.
Dr d’Sa said: “I believe it was a play exercise that got out of hand and turned into predatory behaviour very quickly.”
She described American XL Bullies as “very controversial”, having been introduced following the ban of American Pit Bull Terriers, and warned they are “bigger and stronger” than Pit Bulls, sharing their instinct to hunt and kill other animals, and have an “extreme bite force” as strong as Mastiff dogs.
Dr d’Sa said in her assessments of Kong following the tragedy, she noticed he quickly became aggressive during play and that he was so big he was borderline an “Extreme Bully”.
Dr d’Sa, who was hired by police to work on the case, told the inquest: “He had an exceptionally large mouth and an exceptionally powerful jaw.
“I believe Ian was rough playing with Kong. He was so easily aroused by toys that play quickly became aggressive.
“The difference in what we did and what he did… I had the dog on a rope chain, the dog had a muzzle, and I had an expert handler and the police there.
“Ian was on his own, it was a hot summer’s day so I imagine he didn’t have protective clothing, and he didn’t have a muzzle on the dog.
“There was no way a man of that build could get a dog like that off.
“It weighed more than the victim and standing up Kong was face-height. Ian would have fallen down very quickly.
“With a dog like this, falling down would increase the prey drive.”https://xd.wayin.com/display/container/dc/0b0ab5e6-e80c-4beb-a7d2-6dc8a13250e6?mode=responsive&scrolling=no
Dr d’Sa said Kong’s circumstances were not suitable. She said: “They need highly specialised owners, they do not belong in kennels and they are certainly not dogs for one-bedroom flats.
“Nobody knew this dog, this dog had been with these people less than 24 hours.
“It was a hot summer’s day and it was in the flat. There’s lots of triggers, warning flags, that this was not a good situation.”
The park is popular with children and families – David Clarke/Solent News
She further warned: “They will continue to do damage until the public is educated.”
At the inquest, Kong’s owner Mr Jones – 20 at the time – said it was bigger than he expected when he bought it.
“He looked smaller in the pictures, I was quite surprised by how big he was.
“He did pull quite a lot, I did struggle to walk him, I was a bit worried about that.
“I took him out with my neighbour once [the evening before Mr Symes’ death], the whole way he was just pulling so we decided to go back, there was no way I was walking him as he was so strong.
“I did warn [Mr Symes and Mr Keltie] not to walk him. I said you can’t have one person take him out.”
Mr Jones said he was walking back from his partner’s home at 10.20am on August 10 when he discovered his dog and fatally-wounded Mr Symes at the recreation ground.
He said: “Kong was licking blood and that’s when I started freaking out and shouted for help… the dog was so calm and licking him, he didn’t seem in an aggressive manner.”
Mr Keltie said his first impression of the dog was that it was “friendly”.
Mr Keltie said: “It was the most soppiest thing ever. Very strong, very big, but the most gentle thing ever.”
Mr Symes was killde at Fareham Park Recreation Ground – David Clarke/Solent News
He also said “it was very powerful” and “when the guy [selling it] gave us his lead he nearly pulled my arm out of my socket”.
Local Stacey Marsh said she saw Mr Symes playing with the dog in a “boisterous” way by tapping his cheeks, later telling the animal “that’s enough now”.
Julieann Abbott, whose home backs onto the field, said she heard “gurgling” noises 10 minutes before hearing Mr Jones screaming for help.
Dr Basil Purdue, a Home Office pathologist who carried out the post-mortem, said: “The cause of death was clearly the result of overwhelming neck injuries in keeping with infliction by a large, powerful dog.
“It is notable that the dog he was walking weighed slightly more than he did and was powerful in stature.”
Police Inspector Darren Murphy said: “I would describe the dog as pure muscle and massive, I see no need for a dog so big.”
Coroner Sarah Whitby said she was struck by Dr d’Sa’s ‘chilling’ evidence as she gave a narrative conclusion.
She said: “Mr Symes engaged in some play with Kong who responded with default behaviour aggression and bit his neck and torso repeatedly, severing the voice box and puncturing all four major blood vessels of the neck and severely damaging his spinal column.
“He died from catastrophic injuries aggressively inflicted by a dog.”
Mr Symes’ brother visited the park after the man’s death and in a tribute to him, he said: “The past 30 hours have been pretty shocking and very hard to really understand what happened and why.
“Thanks for all the messages and tributes for my brother. It’s very touching to see the flowers and messages left on the field.
“Crazy to think of all the memories I had playing football on that field and the laughs I had in the school just got wiped from the situation that happened.”
He added: “The facts are he was out walking a dog something he loved to do and as sad as it is least he passed away doing something he loved.”
Top Feature Photo: Ian Symes was tragically killed by a dog at a public park -Image: Facebook