Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Staffies - adorable little creatures who could kill us if they chose to

Yesterday, we had to enter a neighbour’s house unexpectedly while they were out. As we unlocked their front door (don’t worry, I’m not taking up a second career as a burglar  – we’d been lent the keys), an excited snuffling noise reminded us that they had a Staffordshire Bull Terrier staying with them. Yes, one of those fierce-looking, belle-laide Devil Dogs whose swept-back eyes and ears set well back on the head always give the impression that the beast is standing in a wind tunnel. Luckily, we know from experience that Staffies are the soppiest creatures on the face of the planet.

Sure enough, Stanley – whom we hadn’t met before – greeted us as if we were his best mates and he’d been counting the minutes until our almost unbelievably welcome arrival. Anyone relying on a Staffie as a guard-dog must be counting on them licking any intruder to death, because, while they display oodles of courage, tenacity and intelligence, and while their compact bodies and big heads are a mass of rippling muscle, they utterly adore human beings. Stanley, having covered our hands with warm spittle, proceeded to depth-cleanse my face and chew on my beard for a bit. He was no doubt very sad when we left. We were certainly sad to part from him.

I know dogs have been bred to behave the way they do, but I still find being smothered in love by a creature who could quite easily rip one’s throat out an almost spiritually uplifting experience: rather pathetically, a few minutes of Stanley’s ecstatic friendliness rendered me cheerful for the rest of the day.

The first Staffie I was ever introduced to belongs to a niece and her husband. She’s called Treacle and to me she will always be the “Mouth of the South”, because she has possibly the widest gob in the whole of the British Isles (I’m talking about the dog, not the niece, by the way). We’ve met Treacle many times over the years (she's getting on a bit), and have been lucky enough to spend several holidays with her in Cornwall. She has hip trouble, so we try not to throw balls or sticks for her to catch when we’re out on a beach or the moor, because she has a tendency to leap up and pirouette through the air like an Olympic gymnast in her attempts to catch them, and that’s definitely not good for her. Miffed at our unwillingness to accommodate her mania for object retrieval, she often beetles off only to return a few minutes later with a tree trunk weighing several stone clamped in her jaws.

Studying a Staffie at close quarters, you soon realise that they are specifically designed to be able to wrap their relatively huge jaws around large objects (mainly other dogs, one presumes – they were originally bred for dog-fighting) and crush the life out of them by applying their bulging jaw muscles, without their opponent having a hope in hell of dislodging them. Occasionally, while tussling with Treacle on the carpet, you find yourself staring into her enormous maw - and experience a shiver of fear. But then she promptly does something daft and it’s gone.

Staffies are not pack dogs: we are their natural companions. You don’t tend to see them gambolling with other dogs: casual bum-sniffing doesn’t often lead to long-term relationships. Other dogs are certainly interested in them, but not vice-versa. Their human-centricity seems to slightly unhinge their smitten owners. We were once walking away from Constantine Beach when a driver stopped his car next to us and wound down his window. An excited brown and white Staffie puppy poked its head out and exchanged face licks with Treacle. It’s owner then spent several minutes eulogising the breed in general and his dog in particular until there were – literally – tears in his eyes. It was extraordinarily touching.

The real problem for Staffies is that they look a bit like pit-bulls, but aren’t classified as dangerous dogs. This has led has led moronic council estate gangstas to try to turn them into murderous weapons of destruction. As most Staffies would rather bite their own leg off than assault a human being, this has led to appallingly cruel treatment by frustrated knuckle-draggers, who can’t understand why their dogs aren’t as viciously stupid and antisocial as themselves. Many of these deeply lovable and loving creatures end up being abandoned, purely because they’re too nice. The sites dedicated to finding homes for abandoned and mistreated Staffies are heartbreaking.

My brother once pointed out that if cats were ten feet tall, they'd rip your throat out for being a few minutes late with the sachet of Whiskas. Staffies are small dogs, but they could probably kill you in 30 seconds. I guess it's lucky they're evidently absolutely crazy about us!

1 comment:

  1. They do certainly seem adorable. It's unfortunate they resemble the pit-bull so closely, though. I had a short spell a couple of decades back when I worked as a postman. This included going around some council estates. You immediately knew who all the drug dealers were, as that was always the dog of choice for them. It was a dead give away. In fact, I often wondered whether I shouldn't have given the police a list of addresses with pit-bulls on site. I think they would have found it pretty useful. But, on the other hand, the SW6 police were such an apathetic bunch of *******s it was unreal. I was once actually assaulted on one of my rounds, and a really bored looking policewoman told me there was nothing they could do because he hadn't drawn blood! Well, that was really reassuring, wasn't it?