THEY were once dubbed the “nanny dog” because of the affection they showed children.But in recent years Staffordshire bull terriers have gained a dangerous reputation harking back to their fighting past.
As a result Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home has seen the number of abandoned Staffies and Staffie crosses rise by nearly 300 per cent in the past decade.
Today, the Scottish rescue centre is joining forces with the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home to launch a new campaign to challenge misconceptions and end the modern trend of using the animals “as a weapon or
accessory in Scotland’s communities”.
The campaign, called Staffies. They’re Softer Than You Think, aims to raise awareness of the plight of the dogs.
David Ewing, manager at the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home, said: “Many people wrongly consider the dog to be a fighting dog rather than a family dog. Any dog can be trained to be aggressive, yet we know that with the right owners Staffies can make loyal and loving family pets.
“Thousands of responsible Staffie owners will tell you that Staffies are gentle, friendly and a million miles away from the hard image they have been unfairly tarnished with.”
Staffordshires and crosses now account for around 30 per cent of the breeds taken in by the Edinburgh home, with an average of six of the terriers arriving at their doors every week.
Last year, it received 231 Staffordshires – up 272 per cent on 2001. Battersea, meanwhile, accommodated 2,000 Staffordshire bull terriers last year, more than any other animal charity or rescue centre in the UK.
Under the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act, which came into force last year, owners whose pets are out of control are issued with notices dubbed “dog asbos” which can order them to keep their animal on a lead at all times, have it neutered, attend special training courses or face a fine of up to £1,000. A Battersea spokeswoman said: “Battersea fully supports the Scottish Government’s stance that it’s what a dog has actually done and not what breed it happens to be, that should be the important consideration when dealing with the dangerous dogs issue.“
Brindie, a Staffie from the Edinburgh rescue centre, which was taken in by owner Lorna Sheed, from Musselburgh, in 2009 now works as a qualified therapy dog taken on regular trips to visit patients in hospital.
Ms Sheed said: “I just wanted to show what can be achieved with a bit of love, attention and training.”
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill sponsored today’s launch at the Scottish Parliament on behalf of the Edinburgh rescue centre, which is based in his constituency. He said: “Many families have received a pet that has been much enjoyed and many an animal has been rescued from cruelty or abandonment.”
The forerunner of the Staffordshire bull terrier was a small, agile dog, which was produced by crossing both breeds to create an animal commonly used in dogfights in the early 1800s.
Now wrongly seen by many people as a banned dog, the Staffordshire was first registered as a show breed in 1935 when it gained the “nanny dog” tag for its affinity with children.
Case study: ‘My Daphne loves cuddles and is never aggressive’
A couple of months ago I stumbled across a description of a dog on a website called dogsblog.com, writes Chitra Ramaswamy.
Heidi was a one-year-old rescue with a short dark coat and oversized ears. She was living in a foster home in North Devon and was described as “good with children, easy to train, quick to learn, great with other dogs, and very affectionate”.
A top dog, then. Yet she was also a poundie; a dog rescued from a council pound just hours before being put down. She had been picked up as a stray. No-one wanted her.
Heidi – now called Daphne – is actually a Staffie cross, which apparently is even worse. One friend said “why a Staffie? They’re so aggressive”. A dog owner on Leith Links told me “they’re always angry”.
We have had Daphne for a month now. She is everything the dogsblog description promised, and, of course, much more. We discover new and wonderful things about her every day. She loves cuddles on the sofa, running in ever-increasing circles with other dogs, and snoring in bed. I have never seen her behave aggressively or unpredictably. Not once.
And yet we face prejudice daily. Parents drag their children away from her. I find myself saying, at least once a day, “don’t worry, she’s friendly”. It’s ridiculous really. A woman and her dog, out on a walk. Come on. Give us a chance.