‘Why I believe Staffies are good dogs’

Image makeover: Can this poster campaign improve a breed’s reputation?
by Stefanie Marsh

A feature writer for The Times newspaper, Stefanie grew to love Staffordshire bull terriers after volunteering at a refuge and fostering an abandoned Staffy called Rupert.

When dog attacks are reported, why do we focus on the breed rather than the owner? Demonising all Staffies deflects attention away from tighter rules on those who mistreat their pets.

In August of last year there appeared in my inbox a picture of one of the ugliest things I had ever seen. It had murky brown fur and an enormous fang-lined gaping mouth; its body was the shape of a giant, over muscular – and furry – salamander, but with ears.

It looked frightening. And I had already said ‘yes’ to taking it home to live with me for a week. Having hankered after a pet dog for years, I had volunteered at a sanctuary, imagining myself fostering a handsome abandoned gun dog or a floppy-eared spaniel. Instead, I was lumped with a stocky, stinky, undernourished Staffordshire bull terrier with no toilet training.

If you think Staffies should be banned, I know where you're coming from. Nothing other than getting to know one would have changed my mind. In news stories about dangerous dogs, all of them, to my untrained eye, looked like Staffies. I had seen them toddle the streets like compact little body-builders, in thrall to their owners – all of whom seemed to be male, wearing hoodies or otherwise, and to my closed mind, ‘suspicious’. To put it bluntly, snobbery is at the heart of the Staffy's image problem. Though nobody dares say it. Staffies have always been associated with the working classes – ‘Nanny dogs’, but never to the affluent, many of whom have never even met one. Staffies say sink estates and deprivation.

But when a dog attacks, we hear all about the breed and never the owner. Very often, they have past convictions, ASBOs or have been in trouble with the police. We allow vulnerable dogs to be owned by criminals, by clueless teenagers with something to prove, and by people who keep them in the most appalling conditions, force them to take part in dog fights, and don't exercise them.

It has always stunned me that allowing your dog to chase sheep is a criminal offence, while all sorts of unpleasant characters are allowed to keep out-of-control dogs they have trained to be aggressive with impunity.

But as intelligent people-pleasers, Staffies do exceptionally well with responsible owners. And most Staffy-owners are – there are more Staffies in Britain's big cities than any other dog now. The majority of their owners hate what has happened to the reputation of the breed.

We need to reclaim the Staffordshire bull terrier. And things are already changing. Because so many are in rescue, Staffies are for the first time finding themselves adopted in middle class homes. You now see them adorning doggy calendars and, for the first time, in dog food commercials. I have a dream that the queen will one day add a little rescue Staffy to her flock of corgis. It would do wonders for their image problem.

Meanwhile, how can we ensure that no dog falls into the hands of ignorant or malevolent owners? Dog licences would be a huge step forward. So would mandatory puppy training classes and identity chips and, in some cases, mandatory neutering. Dog owners need to be held to account for the behaviour of our dogs. Dangerous dogs do need to be put down. And backyard breeders need to be made illegal.

A bad owner can turn a gentle dog, whatever the breed, into an out-of-control wreck. It is a privilege looking after any living thing. It is a responsibility. Why should people with no sense of either be allowed to own one?

You Decide

  1. Should dog owners need a licence?

Activities

  1. Watch the video in the links about staying safe around dogs: summarise the advice and present it to your class.

Word Watch

Corgis
The queen has always loved Welsh corgis, as did her parents, and has two at the moment (and two dorgis, a cross breed with a dachshund). Recent newspaper reports claimed they are fed on a luxury diet of fillet steak and chicken breast.
Mandatory
Another word for compulsory. Something you are required to do or have.

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