588 Danger of not Conforming

by   David Hancock

 Sadly, in the animal welfare world, some of those appointed and paid to prevent cruelty no longer conform to that time-honoured mandate. It is not animal welfare practice just coldly-calculated, spine-chillingly conscious cruelty for a so-called animal welfare officer to call at a house, seize an innocent pet dog, because of its appearance, then arrange for it to be incarcerated in secret kennels for perhaps years. The RSPCA was set up to investigate complaints not cause them!

  For some reason which is hard to fathom, and even harder to justify, the RSPCA, and in Ulster the USPCA, have been waging war on Irish Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Known to many artisan breeders as Irish Staffies, they are really leggy Staffordshire Bull Terriers and make no claim to being a distinct breed, just a type favoured by some nonconformist owners seeking a healthy pet. Sadly, as with all terriers with bull in their title, there is the risk that the dog-fighting fraternity will produce an aggressive strain of the American Pit Bull Terrier and dub them 'Irish Staffies'. But for an animal charity established to prevent cruelty to dogs to seize on that risk and to classify every leggy Staffie in the land as suspicious is scarcely rational. It results in cruel acts - by them!

 The Anglo-Irish satirist  Jonathan Swift would have found plenty of material in the current campaign being waged against dogs like these, deemed quite unreasonably to pose a danger to the public. Imagine a court of dogs trying humans suspected of belonging to a warlike race. A man claiming to be an Irish Saxon is derided and prosecuted, despite the fact that his mother actually was a Saxon and he was born in Ireland. There's no such race, the canine prosecution might bark, he's just a Trojan horse for the American Saxons, a warlike race, which will attack our puppies. 'What's his offence?' might yelp the canine defence team, 'he is not battle-scarred and he is too tall for a Saxon.' 'No' might bark the dog DA, 'but he looks American and he goes to the gym to run on a treadmill.' The dogs send the man to be 'humanely euthanised', a new form of ethnic cleansing. He has no human rights.

 Crazy satire? I don't think so. And when humans prosecute dogs in a parallel situation it is just as distasteful and unjust. For a charity set up to protect dogs to be persecuting them is more Alice-in-Wonderland than Gulliver's Travels but still a real tragedy. Rudyard Kipling once wrote that politics is a dog's life without a dog's decencies. Nowadays a dog's life is being ended by politics without decency. When the nonconformist owner of an Irish Staffie pleads that his dog is just that, he is told that there is no such breed.

 But nonconformists are not the only victims of ill-informed prejudice, recognised breeds get no protection; pedigree Staffordshire Bull Terriers registered with the Kennel Club have been destroyed under the crazed mantle of the discredited Dangerous Dogs Act. Yet KC-approved judges have been sent to declare whether Irish Staffies are real Staffies or not. Irish Bull Terrier would be a safer name than Irish Staffie; Bull Terriers have no height or weight stipulation in their breed standard and that could help. Please spare them however from the KC Bull Terrier's egg-shaped head!

 Irish Staffies are nearly always owned by working class people, who do not wish to own expensive pedigree dogs and genuinely don't care about breeds. Aha, cry the dog-haters, the Irish Staffie is just a front for Pit Bulls and they're too high on the leg to be a true Staffie. Well, none of their fanciers claim that the Irish Staffie is meant to be a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, as recognised by the Kennel Club. They merely favour their own type of Bull Terrier, just as the nonconformist men of Staffordshire did a century or so ago. Irish Staffies are around two inches higher on the leg than the recognised breed, leading to allegations of their being bred for fighting. But the old dog-fighting men chose a dog lower on the leg, much more like the pedigree breed, as experts like Fitz-Barnard, Colby and Stevens have testified in their books.

 A Staffordshire Bull Terrier dog should weigh between 28 and 38lbs. In Colby's Book of the American Pit Bull Terrier he describes nearly all the most successful dogs in his many years in dog-fighting. His father John bred and sold around 5,000 dogs. He gives the weights of many of his fighting dogs: Pilot 27lbs, Tige 35lbs, Boxer 33lbs, Spring 31lbs, Grip 29lbs, Major 33lbs, Pupsy 33lbs, Peter 33½lbs, Tinker 38lbs, Brandy 31lbs, with the champion fighting dog of Mexico in 1922 weighing 39lbs. Why then should the RSPCA consider that an 'Irish Staffie' appreciably bigger than that should pose a bigger danger than a dog the size of a purebred Staffie?

 In his instructive but horrific book Dogs of Velvet and Steel, Pit Bulldogs: A Manual for Owners, Bob Stevens writes phrases like: 'Lil...is in excellent shape...She is exactly on the weight she is supposed to be which is 36lbs...she has the ideal conformation for pit fighting.' 'The smaller dog is an extremely hard biter and very powerful.' In his book Thirty Years with Fighting Dogs, written in the early 1900s, Armitage writes of his lengthy experience with dog-fighting; he favoured a shorter legged dog which went in low. Colby recommended a dog which he called the chest dog, which he considered the best style in the pit, which went in low with a 'boring-in style'. Why then does the RSPCA look out for leggy Staffies as an increased sign of being bred for fighting?

 Should terriers with bull in their title be regarded as a danger because of the risk of their biting someone? In the most comprehensive survey ever conducted in America, breeds inflicting the most bites were found to be GSDs and Rottweilers. Vets who were consulted rated Chows the most likely to bite. Dog bite surveys both here and in America show that most dog-bites are not inflicted by terriers. Most dog-bites are not inflicted by muscular, strong-headed dogs like the bull breeds. And why, in an age when obesity is killing so many pet dogs, should the use of treadmills be linked automatically with the preparation of a dog for fighting? But no sane person wants to put a child at risk from a dog; every dog which bites a human without reason or warning is dangerous and must be destroyed. But the way in which some police forces and more regrettably some charities are condemning dogs by breed or conformation/anatomy is simply disgraceful. Dog control seems to be following Sir Ernest Benn's description of politics as the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy. Shame on any animal charity for becoming political. Shame about the penalties being paid by those nonconformists favouring the Irish Staffies. Shame about their euthanised pets too!