STAFFORDSHIRE BULL Terrier owners were in uproar last week following a scathing attack on their breed by a journalist in the Daily Telegraph, writes Nick Mays. Their protests prompted the Telegraph’s Editor to retract the journalist’s comments and to print pro-Stafford article just days later.
The article entitled ‘Little Bruisers That Make Me Quake’, written by Telegraph Features writer Cassandra Jardine was published in the newspaper on Wednesday January 12th. Jardine set out her anti-Staffie stall in the opening paragraph of her quarter page rant saying: "The new crop of Christmas puppies are now taking their first walkies in my local park – and the bad news is that most of them are Staffies. I know, I know, Staffordshire bull terriers [sic] can make gentle, faithful family pets, but whichever of these brindled and wriggling objects looms into view, I quake… a Staffie will often play nicely with my labrador-cross for a while, then, suddenly, snap, fasten its sharp little teeth on my dog’s ear or throat and hold on for grim death."
Jardine seems to have picked up on a news item published in the Midlands-based Express & Star newspaper which showed that Staffies and Staffie-crosses are now inundating rescue centres – hardly surprising as numerically, the breed is amongst the top five breeds in the UK and are sought after as family dogs. In fact in 2003, as Jardine reports, 1,355 Staffies were taken in by Battersea Dogs’ Home, out numbering mongrels (1,351) for the first time ever.
But on Planet Jardine this means only one thing – that the Staffordshire Bull terrier is a dangerous breed, prized by ‘Chavs’ as aggressive status symbols. To this end, she goes onto quote Ali Taylor, Battersea’s Head of Dog Behaviour as saying: "Owners don’t understand how excitable and strong they can be and that they have a high pain threshold. They are like dogs on steroids."
Jardine goes on, saying: "I suspect that many of them do understand – that’ why they want them…" and then says that Staffies have replaced the Pit Bull as a ‘hard dog’ since the introduction of the Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991.
The article continues in much the same vein, with talk of "bellicose Staffies" and "most (Staffies) being used as postman-scaring status symbols." Not content with prompting outrage on her own, Jardine goes onto quote David Levy, former SBT breed liaison officer to the KC that backstreet breeders are breeding "taller, leggier dogs that look more like pit bulls", whilst James Beaufoy, secretary of the SBT Breed Council is supposed to have said: "The picture is very bleak. If I’m walking my dogs and a Staffie comes near, I take them away as you never know what might happen."
However, she and the Telegraph’s editor were unprepared for the backlash that greeted the article. Phil Buckley, Kennel Club Press Officer and Staffie owner, was alerted to the article first thing on the Wednesday and went out and purchased a copy of the Telegraph. Having read the article, and personally knowing the personalities that had been 'quoted' he saw her anti-Stafford views.
Buckley said - "The Stafford is the fifth most popular breed in the UK, for good reason. 'He' is affectionately referred to as the nanny dog as he is particularly good with children and he is highly trainable and very intelligent. I have liaised with all of those quoted within the article and all are understandably very angry with what has been printed. Our Dogs readers will be aware that this is not the first time that journalists have taken dogs and their owners completely out of context and 'put words into their mouths' and the Kennel Club sees this type of reporting as totally unacceptable".