In the headlines for all the wrong reasons, Staffordshire Bull Terriers have got a bad rep.

As a female Staffordshire Bull Terrier owner, I often receive strange looks while out walking my dog. For various reasons, the general public seem rather surprised to see me at the end of the dog lead rather than some aggressive hooded male stabbing strangers at random. In the past I have reassured, laughed at, insulted and ignored many a worried passer-by but I was taken aback when a local resident said…

“That’s not your dog”

“Yes it is,” I replied, suddenly panicking that I was being labelled a dog abductor.

“Why have you got such a vicious dog?” he had the cheek to ask me, as the lovable Goldie stared up at him, smiling the way only Staffs do.

“So every Irish person steals?” I snapped back.

As he confirmed the racial stereotype in attempt to laugh off my criticism, he saw a flash of anger in my eyes. Unknowingly, he’d hit upon a raw nerve. Three years ago, Goldie was brought into my home as a temporary arrangement until she was re-homed. Her former owners had mistreated her, confining her to a small space below the stairs where she was tied up all day long. Aged only five months old when she arrived, she was barely even toilet trained, which wasn’t seen as a priority to her former owners. A phobia of the broom suggests physical abuse, probably due to her lack of toilet training. After three weeks of looking for a home for Goldie, we gave up the search. This was her home.

“There is no reason for middle-class parents to look at me as if I have just picked up their child and attempted to feed it to my dog.”

Today Goldie can only be described as my sidekick. As I write this, she sleeps in her bed at my feet. When people see my dog, they assume that I’ve chosen her in order to appear threatening or aggressive. But I didn’t choose Goldie; her breed was irrelevant to me. After three years, I can safely say Staffs are one of the most loyal, affectionate, entertaining and loveable breeds. Few dogs make yawning noises in the morning, lie on the floor like a frog, and unscrew the lid off a water bottle when thirsty: the list of good qualities goes on and on. In fact, Staffs are like a cult breed, enjoyed by those in the know. Far from being vicious, it is in fact the yapping Chihuahuas and Jack Russells that are most vicious towards her while she plays in the park. It’s always the small ones.

I am fully aware of the attacks on children by Staffs reported in the media, but as a dog owner, I do not believe that any breed of dog should be left alone with a child they are unfamiliar with. I have small siblings and as much as I trust Goldie, I would never leave her unattended with them. At the age of two, I was bitten badly on my face by two small Dachshunds, proving that any dog can attack. The majority of these attacks happen in the home, usually in a Grandmother’s cul-de-sac when everyone within the house is too distracted to supervise the child. These attacks rarely happen in the street, therefore there is no reason for middle-class parents to look at me as if I have just picked up their child and attempted to feed it to my dog.

In the past, it has been suggested that Staffs should be added to the Dangerous Dogs Act, which already includes Pit Bulls, Japanese Akitas and Tozas. This law would mean that any Staffs could be seized and put down if considered to be aggressive. It was recently reported however, that this law may be scrapped altogether. As it has been in place for two years now, many dogs were destroyed unnecessarily during that time. Imagine for a second that you were a Pit Bull owner. Can you imagine what a kick in the teeth it would be to hear that the law was irrelevant now and your dog had died for nothing? I would not be happy at all.

In no way should aggressive dogs be celebrated, and in no way am I excusing those that use their dogs aggressively or train them to be violent. As a dog lover, I feel that people who use their dogs to do their dirty work for them are of the lowest kind. But I do feel that the general public have chosen to tar every Staff owner with the same brush when it comes to irresponsible dog handling. News reports on vicious dogs have led all Staff owners to be judged unfairly. So next time you see a Staff and cross the street, or rush to pick up your child or simply look at the owner like they are dirt, think of a stereotype you are often pushed in to and remember how frustrating it is to be labelled something unfairly. Give people a chance before you judge them and the world will be a happier place.

By Lily Mercer. Photography by Antony Price.

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