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Staffords in ‘rough deal’


THEY'RE BEING dumped in record numbers and branded a ‘yob dog’, yet Staffordshire Bull Terriers are ideal family pets, say experts. So why is this nation of dog lovers turning against them?
Extremely reliable, highly intelligent and affectionate, especially with children. It's not a description most of us would associate with Staffordshire bull terriers, but it's how the UK Kennel Club sums them up.

In fact, the breed is one of only two from over 190 it recommends as suitable with children, the other being a Chesapeake Bay retriever.

Somehow these little balls of muscle have gone from being considered good family pets to canine outcasts among large sections of this nation of dog lovers.

Staffies and Staffie crosses are being dumped in record numbers and not enough people are willing to give them a new home. So how did the sociable dog that likes to be loved fall out of people's affections?

The breed is a bit of a contradiction and that is a big part of the problem, says the Dogs Trust. While their natures are loving, their perceived physical similarities with banned breeds - such as pit bulls - has resulted in them being tarnished with the ‘dangerous dogs’ label.
‘Because of their appearance, certain types of people think they've got themselves a fierce dog and in fact they'd far rather be in front of the fire having their tummy tickled,’ says breeder Veronica Brown.

A result of this misguided association they have become a ‘macho’ fashion accessory among some young men, say welfare groups. They are a ‘psuedo pit bull’ for those who want to look hard.
‘They have become a status symbol among some youngsters and the type of person who gets one for that reason is not likely to be the most responsible owner,’ says Ali Evans, from Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home.

Selling them has now become a lucrative business among certain groups and people wanting to make some quick cash are intensively breeding them.

‘Some people now consider them as a source of income and are breeding them in their back gardens,’ says Ms Evans.

A pure-breed puppy with documentation to prove its Kennel Club registration and a health certificate costs around £600, so there is a market for cheaper dogs. Many are cross-breeds but still look the part. And looks count as the dogs are also being used as a protection, say animal charities.

That's not to say that Staffies can't be aggressive and dangerous. They can. Like all dogs, there can be moments of aggression which, coupled with the Staffie's strength, can lead to serious injuries. It all fuels the negative image the dogs have now acquired and makes them harder to home if they are dumped by owners.

Birmingham Dogs’ Home says pure-bred Staffies and their crosses make up at least 40% of all dogs that end up with them. They make up a third of all dogs handled by Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home, which has branches in London, Berkshire and Kent. The media also has a part to play in attitudes towards the breed.

‘Sometimes if there's a dog attack, they'll use a photo of a Stafford in the paper before the true identity of the dog has been made,’ says Ms Brown.

The dogs are being villainised, say responsible owners. Lorien Hill is mum to a five-year-old, Lucas, and has a Staffie, one of three she has owned over the years.

‘Billy looks all rough and tough on the outside, yet he's the most gentle dog ever and in touch with the emotions of those around him,’ she says. They call them nanny dogs and that's because they're like babysitters. When Lucas is in the garden, Billy sits near him just watching.’

She agrees they are often just a status symbol. As a result people assume Staffies are aggressive and make assumptions about why she owns one.

‘Someone at the school gate was sarcastic to me about my dog,’ she says. ‘They said 'good you didn't get an aggressive muscly dog then'. People just assume.

‘I think things are changing and they're beginning to go out of fashion as the hard boy thing. That might be why there's so many in the shelters, because a lot of people are put off because they're seen as a chav dog.’

Staffies are not the first breed of dogs to be villainised. German shepherds, dobermans and rottweilers have all suffered bad press.

‘What they all have in common is they are big and strong,’ says the RSPCA's chief vet, Mark Evans. ‘A smaller dog could be just as aggressive but there is less chance of it being a life-threatening attack.’

As a result it does not make the headlines, he adds.

‘We need to educate people about how to care for Staffies and also the wider population to dispel some of the myths,’ says Mr Evans. ‘What a dog is like is not down to their breed it is down to their owner.’

Reproduced by kind permission of bbc.co.uk/news

© BBC News Magazine