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Prettifying the SBT

by Robert Simon

I believe that concealing, denying, sanitizing, prettifying, etc. any aspect of, or fact about SBT's past or present is bad political strategy, is morally indefensible, and is personally and organizationally irresponsible. And I believe, as a corollary to this, that any such concealment, denial, prettification etc. ultimately plays right into the hands of the enemies of the breed.

In discussions on an SBT email list some people have suggested that the desire to conduct what I and others see as an honest and open and full discussion of our breed's history is evidence of "egotism", i.e. is somehow putting our own interests above the interests of the breed. And -- as this line of argument goes -- it is most important to present or "promote" the history of the breed in a "positive" light. But in thinking about history I prefer to think in terms of what is true and false (as best as we can tell), rather than what may be viewed or "promoted" as "positive" or "negative".

To my knowledge, there hasn't been a single book written on the SBT over the past 50 years that doesn't discuss in some detail the history of our dogs as fighting dogs. Did and do all of these authors have "ego" problems, which is to say that they placed their personal interests above those of the breed? Should new books on the breed say less or nothing at all about the history and genetic inheritance of our Staffords?

When I meet someone on the street or at a friend's house who expresses interest in getting a SBT of their own, within a very short time I tell them that Staffords are fighting dogs, historically and genetically, and that such dogs are great and serious responsibilities, and are not for everyone. I don't think anyone would disagree with the need to let potential Stafford owners know about the particularities of the breed, which is to say their history and genetic inheritance as fighting dogs.

Yes, fighting dogs. Not people fighters, or even people or property protectors, but dogs designed and bred to fight other dogs ferociously, effectively, unquestioningly, enthusiastically, and to the death if necessary. SBT's remain fighting dogs even if they don't currently participate in organized dogfights, in the same way that Labradors remain hunting dogs even if the vast majority are household pets, or that Collies are herding dogs, etc., etc. Staffords today will vary in their willingness and ability to fight, but this apparently has always been the case. And the extraordinary, complex Stafford character and physical capabilities are largely, directly attributable to its origin as a fighting dog.

Someone pointed out to me that certain other canine breeds -- Boxers in particular -- had a fighting past, but their breeders and owners and fanciers don't feel the need to discuss this.

This is a misleading analogy. Boxers were bred to do various jobs, in particular protection and security tasks, but they were not specifically bred to fight, even if they were used in such a way. Staffords were bred specifically to fight -- not to do any other sort of work -- and their exceptional tractability around adults and children was complexly but very practically related to this fighting "job", and to the social circumstances of their owners. I think this is a particularly interesting history, and certainly bears directly upon the present-day exceptional nature of Staffords and other fighting breeds. And if Stafford owners talk more than Boxer owners about the history of their breed, this just says that Boxers simply don't have as interesting a history in the minds of their owners, and doesn't at all demonstrate that Boxer owners have somehow learned to be more responsible than SBT owners. These dogs have very different kinds of histories. In any case, any reasonably competent muckraking journalist or demagogic politician out to defame SBT's and their partisans would take all of 10 minutes to research and discredit any such Stafford/Boxer comparison, which aims to downplay the difference between Staffords and Boxers, and aims to at least in part blame historically-minded Stafford owners for their breed's image problems.

Why should we be afraid to speak the truth to our friends and to our enemies alike? Where is the petty egotism in confronting our enemies in a forthright fashion? And arming our friends and ourselves with the facts? As well, I find it quite natural and healthy to want to know as much as possible about the history of our SBT's. Why should fear of hostile and mendacious politicians or tabloid journalists or even honorable (but misinformed) anti-Stafford people determine how and what one ought to say, and where one can say it ( e.g. ok on a closed list, but not ok on a "public" website)?

Obviously, these sketchy remarks have barely scratched the surface of a difficult and charged set of issues. But to speak now on a personal level, one reason I got involved with Staffords was my discovery of Vicki Hearne in the mid-1980's. (This was way before I actually got a Stafford). For those who don't know her, Vicki Hearne is a dog and horse trainer, author of many books, and a highly respected academic philosopher. Through her writings, lectures, appearances before judges and city councils and legislatures and journalists, she has certainly done as much as any other human being I've ever heard of on behalf of bull + terrier fighting dogs (she often calls them all Bulldogs or Bull Terriers and does not find it useful to distinguish between many of the fighting breeds).

Vicki Hearne talks in great detail about dogfighting, and will neither condemn nor condone it. She is strong, complex, honest and open-minded in her views. I'm not using her here as an argument on behalf of dogfighting, or even as an argument on behalf of talking about dogfighting: the point is that I have never heard her views -- which would surely shock many Stafford fanciers -- taken up by judges or politicians or media people and used against the breed. On the contrary, she is someone who has provided much influential assistance to and positive publicity for the breed. And she has done this without hiding, denying, distorting or putting a "positive" spin on the truth. Her's may not be the only model to follow, but it is certainly a compelling one.