84 SALUTING THE STAFFIE
SALUTING THE STAFFIE
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a very special breed, yet one still being punished by ill-informed legislators due to its fighting dog origins. Its famed courage, tenacity and stoicism, once prized in the fight-rings and specifically bred for, now counts against it. The breed is a victim of its own fanciers, with even a show breeder being convicted of dog-fighting offences. Those who misuse them seem to hide behind the good qualities in the breed, perhaps envying their dogs their courage and perseverance in adversity, whilst encouraging combativeness and savageness, often to exhibit their own desire for manliness. It is shameful to pose as being heavily masculine, willing to fight any taker and able to sustain pain unflinchingly, but only through your dog. The current craze for ‘status dogs’, in which young thugs parade their muscular dogs as trophies, at the same time, very transparently exhibiting their own insecurity, lack of self-belief and inability to fend for themselves, is now receiving a police response. But the canine victims, the dogs themselves, will often lose their lives; little lasting harm will come to their exploiters. Dog abuse can take so many forms but few breeds have suffered as much from their own owners as the Bull Terrier from Staffordshire.
The ill-founded Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991, a knee-jerk response to dog attacks on humans, has victimized the Stafford, totally without sound reason, and entirely because the Kennel Club advised the Home Office to make the Act breed-specific. Now, a thousand dead dogs later, they have changed their minds, without having the magnanimity to admit their crucial error. For any dog to be condemned to death because of its appearance alone is, shall we say, fatally flawed. Vets, despite not being trained to identify breeds of dog, RSPCA inspectors, despite being appointed to prevent cruelty to animals and policemen with insufficient knowledge of dogs, have all been regarded as ‘expert’ witnesses in courts where blameless Staffords have been ‘identified’ as being ‘of pit bull type’. Such activity has brought shame on our once-respected legal system. As with humans, it is behaviour which poses the threat never appearance; the importance of temperament in the breed of Staffordshire Bull Terrier has never mattered more.
Physical type has long varied in the breed. In his foreword to the book on the breed which he edited, Major Count VC Hollender was writing (in 1952): ‘There were so many dogs sold as Staffords in a boom after the 14-18 war, where Whippets, mongrels, and any small, smooth-coated dogs were used as sires. The modern-coloured Bull Terrier was revived in the same way, and one of the best breeders who ever lived (I refer to Harry Monk, of the Bloomsbury prefix) informed me that Greyhounds, Whippets, etc., were introduced in the modern product. Hence the light, leggy specimens that were first produced.’ Is it at all surprising therefore that light leggy specimens still turn up today, to be dubbed ‘Irish Staffies’ by their fanciers but worryingly attracting the attention of our leading animal charity as ‘being of pit bull type’! If the men of Staffordshire can create their own type of bull terrier from existing stock then I can’t see why other fanciers shouldn’t be free to favour theirs. The size of the breed has long drawn debate.
One chapter in the book Celebrating Staffordshire Bull Terriers begins with: “Among purebreds, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier stands out as being an athletic Breed, a fact all too few Staffords fanciers fully appreciate and those owning most other breeds seldom realise. The Stafford’s athletic abilities remain a key factor in its continuing to be a foremost all-purpose dog and so bred-in-the-bone that not even many generations of being bred primarily for show has exerted much detrimental effect.” But if you study the critiques from recent championship dog shows, where it is claimed that only the best appear, you see a different picture. Here are some of the judges comments: “many exhibits carry far too much weight…many exhibits displayed a distinct lack of rib and forechest”; “narrow fronts and bodies also upright pasterns”; “shoulders and fronts have deteriorated alarmingly”; “poor rear movement with many lacking drive”; “I do feel that we need to work our way back to a correct blend of bull and terrier not one or the other”; “rear movement was poor” and “I was quite alarmed by the number displaying features which depart so much from the Standard that there is a real possibility of breed identity being lost if we continue down this path.”
Whilst it is good to see the honesty in such remarks, it is worrying to read such consistent criticism of some features over several years. I see Staffords in the show ring with very poor feet, feet more suitable for a Whippet, and they win! I see many without muscular development and in this breed that never looks impressive. An unfit waddling Stafford looks dreadful and insults the heritage of the breed. A poorly constructed Stafford will never move well. Writing in the first issue of the magazine The Stafford in 1948, the respected breeder Jimmie Russ stated that: “The foundation of the dog is the skeletal structure…Too heavy bone is usually coarse, and being heavy is slower in movement. Light bone on the other hand is fast but lacks strength. Aim for good, clean, straight bone, with neither frailty nor coarseness. Aim for quality, which is neither coarseness nor lightness. Your Stafford will lack the speed of a Whippet, but he will be surprisingly fast in the manner of a first-class welter-weight boxer.” That last phrase sums up this breed for me; the Stafford should be the welter-weight of the dog breeds, fit, muscular, fast on its feet, alert and full of vigour. This is a very special breed, whose blood is rightly prized in a number of other breeds or types. Staffordshire has given us a quite admirable breed of dog and one which needs our support more now than ever before.