ANIMAL lovers at Scotland’s oldest dog shelter say they will refuse follow the example of their English counterparts putting Staffordshire bull terriers on death row.
But last night Scottish campaigners hit out at the “over-exaggerated” stigma attached to Staffordshire bull terriers, claiming it has made them more difficult to re-home than any other breed.
They say the massive increase in abandoned staffies is mirrored on both sides of the border.
But rather than putting animals down, the solution is education according to David Ewing, manager of Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home (EDCH). He said the centre now has around 30 staffies – making up almost a third of their overall dog-count.
Some have been in kennels for up to nine months, but Mr Ewing is determined to find a good home for every single one.
He believes their use in criminal culture as fighting dogs is a passing fad.
He said: “Lots of people hand these dogs to us because they don’t want to be attached to the over-exaggerated stigma that now comes with them.
“Many people bringing in staffies tell us they are strays, but we tend to be able to tell when a dog is just unwanted.
“However we have an open door policy, so we would never turn away a dog in need – because then we would have no control over whose hands it falls into.”
Staff at the home are ordered to be cautious when anyone comes to choose a dog, but in particular “dodgy looking chavs.”
Mr Ewing said: “You often get young guys in their early twenties who come in looking for a staffie, and I immediately feel suspicious when they tell me they’ve had eight dogs already.
“I tend to think, well what on earth have they done with them all?
“Everybody gets to go through the same process where they view the dogs, and we discuss their lifestyle and how the animal would fit in.
“I would never say ‘no you’re a dodgy looking chav’ but we have the right to refuse anyone a dog if we have any suspicion that they wouldn’t look after it.”
While sympathetic to the huge rise in abandoned staffies, Mr Ewing says Battersea’s decision to put down over 2,000 dogs in a year is not one he would take lightly.
He said: “We have definitely had a massive increase in staffies coming in, obviously nowhere near as high as the home at Battersea, but proportionally it is not far off.
“One week we had five of them come in, and when we are only re-homing one or two a week, that certainly means they begin to mount-up.
“We have never had to put a healthy dog down.
“I just hope it doesn’t come to that – it’s unthinkable – whichever way you look at it, you are taking away a life.”
He also hit out at owners who dressed staffies in studded collars, insisting they are “great pets” and only aggressive when tormented.
He said: “They used to be nicknamed the ‘nanny dog’ because they were so good with kids and other dogs, but that image has been tainted.
“Owners put big angry-looking collars and harnesses on them, with spikes and studs, to try and make them look more threatening.
“They are teased and tormented until they become so wound up that they snap at someone, at which point they are given praise and taught command words to make them do it on cue.
“Not so long ago people wouldn’t even look at a greyhound because they weren’t looked upon as suitable pets – now we rarely see them in here because the demand is so high.
“I just hope people start to realise staffies make great pets too.
“There is no way we would ever pass on a dog to an owner if we thought their behaviour could be seen as dangerous, because we are trying to remove the stigma, and if one of our dogs attacks someone it would only further reinforce the devil-dog message.”
She said: “Podge is just a lovely old thing, so cute and cuddly, I couldn’t imagine being without her now.
“She needed a home so much and I just had to volunteer to take her.”
One couple – James and Lorna Gibb – decided the only way to tackle the staffie stigma was to hang a bright green collar around their dog’s neck emblazoned with ‘friendly.’
Their dog, Brindie, was abused by its previous owners before they rescued her from EDCH last October.
Mrs Gibb, from Dunbar, said: “We had never considered a Staffordshire bull terrier as a pet, but when we visited the home we met Brindie, and were immediately interested in her.
“She has had a lot of problems; we think she used to get hit a lot by her previous owner, because for a long time you could never pat her on the head without her cowering away from your hand.
“When we first took her out on walks people would cross the street to avoid her, or pick up their dog for fear of an attack, as there is such a strong stigma attached to this type of dog.
“Since then we’ve got her a lovely bright green collar, so now when she bounds up to people in the park they know there is nothing to worry about.
Mr Ewing added: “We are the kind of place that would love to go out of business, if all the dogs got homes and were well taken care of that would be our idea of perfection.
“But we’ve been going since 1883 and there doesn’t seem to be a drop in the need for us, I just hope the fate of the staffie will change.”