518 Terrorising the Terrier

by   David Hancock

The war on terror, quite rightly, demands front page coverage these days. But there's another smaller war being conducted at the moment, which also affects human rights. For some reason which is hard to fathom, and even harder to justify, the RSPCA, and in Ulster the USPCA, are waging war on terriers -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 owners seeking a healthy pet. Sadly, as with all Bull Terriers, 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 and seize on that risk to classify every leggy Staffie in the land as suspicious is scarcely rational.

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 owner of an Irish Staffie pleads that his dog is just that, he is told that there is no such breed. But 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 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 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.

Why should this emergent terrier breed be vilified when others are not? No one goes after the Plummer Terrier, the Sporting Lucas Terrier or the English White. Artisan breeders kept the Jack Russell going for a century before the Kennel Club caught up. Why shouldn't an unrecognised emergent breed be respected? The Russians and the Czechs can literally invent a terrier breed and have it recognised by the Kennel Club with astonishing ease. Why can't working class dog fanciers create their own breed without being target ted? The Irish Terrier, the Wheaten Terrier and the Kerry Blue have all been used for dog- fighting in past times but quite rightly are not under attack now.

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? 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 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 dead dogs too!