Dogs bred to savage

HAVE you, like me, watched a Labrador dog take with delight to a pool, a river or the surf and marvelled that the love of water in their breeding history has survived for so many generations. It has been many decades, many dog generations, since the forebears of the Labrador you see making a beeline for water were used as waterfowl retrievers and many more decades since the St John’s Water Dog was used as the foundation for the breed.

It was probably many generations since the forebears of my family’s recently expired Border Collie were used as sheepdogs, and I’d imagine that the breeding of those non-working generations greatly diluted my dog’s share of the genes that went to that purpose, but our Kip would herd a cat if that was the best on offer. He made himself useful herding chooks about the yard all day, and the belly crawl, the stare, the freeze were a delight to watch.

There can be no doubting the purpose of the breed when you see a Beagle hunting for a scent trail before it takes off excitedly nose to the ground.

And so it shouldn’t surprise anyone, least of all their owners, when an American Staffordshire terrier attacks, mauls and possibly kills any living thing, because to do so is in its breeding. Strangely it seems so often to come as a surprise to those who know the individual dog or dogs that do the mauling, and so often it is these people who are the victims. Nineteen-year-old Natalie Southam was surprised when two of her neighbour’s American Staffordshire terriers jumped the fence into her Mirrabooka yard a week ago and savaged her until and after she lost consciousness. She had helped look after the dogs and knew them by name. Ms Southam, who was rescued by her partner and by the dogs’ owner, has had 19 stitches to wounds on her head, neck and body.

As reported in this paper this week, Lake Macquarie City Council has responded to criticism that it had refused to declare the dogs dangerous with the statement that it had not received any reports of the dogs attacking a person or an animal. However the Herald's Damon Cronshaw reported the contents of a letter from the council’s own rangers to councillors last December stating that they had been approached 11 times in the previous two years with allegations of the dogs killing goats, killing puppies as food, dogs escaping and dogs fighting.

The Herald has been told that up to 40 dogs have been on the Mirrabooka residential block at any one time, and it appears the dogs’ owner bred and sold them. An advertisement to sell puppies this month naming the neighbour as the owner had this to say about the sire: ‘‘Staunch is a Bully type amstaff [American Staffordshire] with extreme muscle and bone.’’

The American Staffordshire Terrier Club of NSW has this to say on its website: ‘‘Although the ancestors of the American Staffordshire Terrier were fighting dogs, the selective breeding done since the 1930s has always been away from their fighting heritage. Such were the efforts of Amstaff fanciers to move away from dog fighting that by the 1950s the Staffordshire Terrier Club of America expelled any member that was breeding fighting dogs.’’ Rather than being a gladiator, the club says, the dogs are now ‘‘highly desired for their love, devotion and reliability, especially with children’’.

Unfortunately the extreme muscle of this and similar breeds means that, inevitably, some will be used for pig hunting, one of its early purposes listed by the NSW club. Reinforcing the savage traits bred into the American Staffordshire decades ago is that some of the dogs that contribute to the breed today are likely to have been used to attack, maul and kill wild pigs.

This history and these behaviours are not those of the American Staffordshire alone. There are the American pitbull, bull Arab and the so-called staffy cross, a term used often to disguise a pitbull or pitbull cross. These dogs are identifiable by their extreme muscle and powerful jaws.

No, no-one should be surprised.

Shouldn’t all dogs of a mauling, fighting, killing breed or cross be declared dangerous?