Loving the Living: The World Around

On a recent trip I landed in the company of some outstanding folks. I found myself in "my kind of pub" time and time again, quaffing well-balanced pints of bitter while engaging for hours in the ancient art of conversation. The span of topics ranged from old-time working terriers to articulating the given components of modern breed type. You’re probably thinking that I was either at the Potomac Specialty weekend or in the UK, as these are the two most likely places to experience what I have described.

This time, it was the UK.

With a little planning and help from some great British friends I experienced a mating, a whelping, six litters of pups, and about 500 Staffordshire Bull Terriers in 12 days. How long would this have taken in the US?

Now, I know that there is a contention in America who thinks that all this newfangled British talk is a bunch of unnecessary rigmarole. I would argue first and foremost that it is not newfangled at all. There has always been a faction within the US Stafford fancy who has "returned to the source" time and time again. Why after nearly 30 years are there people still going to England (and now Australia and South Africa) to find standard Staffords?

A little discussion is in order for this:

Those who think that there is an English Stafford, there is an American Stafford, and that the two should be accepted as unique animals are entitled to their opinion. On the other hand, the world today is smaller than ever, and universal standards are applicable in almost all arenas. Personal experience tells many that in some other parts of the world there are greater numbers of Staffords that fit the standard (to a much higher degree) than what can be found in the US. The English and US standards are, of course, very similar. The dogs are by-and-large very different. On the other hand, there are some folks who believe that just because their pup was imported from the UK that it should walk into the US show rings and clean house. This is not true. For every standard Stafford that one sees in the UK there are five grossly out of standard on many accounts. They are not all destined to become reference points for the breed. But in the history of this country more than a few imports have proven to be quite worth the trouble. I am astonished to hear "involved" breeders (10+ yrs) in the US tell me how they’d love to be able to travel to England to see the Staffords "some day" and to bring a pup back. Then they’ll turn around and spend twice as much money flying to a single weekend of shows in the US, and pay $750 or more for the use of a very mediocre stud dog. Another misconception/excuse has to do with the actual cost of importing a dog. It is quite possible to pay much more for a US Stafford pup, delivered than a pup from the UK, delivered. I’ve done it. The "going rate" for puppies in the UK is much cheaper than in the US. There is no need to pay more than the going rate just because of an American accent.

Back to the subject…The main reason why most people with a decent eye for Staffords are often astonished by the quality of the top competitive dogs in England (and perhaps Australia, and South Africa) is not the simple results of a numbers game alone; i.e. more dogs = greater chance that something good will come out. In stead, it also has to do with the admittedly controversial way in which the "cream of the crop" is chosen: by specialist judges with no champions class. In the US, all-rounder judges abound. While this may be suitable for some breeds, the Stafford does not lend itself well to the non-specialized eye. Here (USA) we have most breeders fighting the assertion that the judges determine the direction of the breed, as everyone wants to think he/she is doing his/her own thing regardless of what anyone else thinks. This is a proud euphemism that is most often falls under the general heading of "kennel-blindness." In countries with breed-specialist judges actively breeding Staffords the opportunity is indeed there for a judge to put up a dog he has just mated his best bitch to. Even the potential for this makes some people a little uneasy. On the other hand, the opportunity is also there for conformation dog shows to fulfill their original intent: To chose the best stock worthy of breeding so that the breed can continue to improve. Now, what qualifications should one have to be trusted to do this? As long as under-educated (due to being spread so thin) judges are telling us Americans what a Stafford should be, we will continue to see unacceptable variations in type within the top 20 dogs in the US. Whether US Stafford breeders allow judges to determine the direction of their breeding programs or not, the truth is that for a newcomer to the breed, it is easiest to form ideals based upon what respected people, the judges, think. At least, that is, until one has gathered enough information to form an independent opinion. Without arguing the pros and cons of a champions’ class I should digress from this tangent to simply say that it’s a great big world out there, but it’s becoming more accessible. Don’t rule anything out based upon nationalistic pride. Especially, the truth…

Compared to many, I am a rookie traveler, only scratching the surface in traversing the world to play with dogs, still I have begun to recognize some patterns in my thinking. Here are just a few:

We pack up our cars with crates, tack boxes, travel-bags and toys. We haul furry, little, muscle-bound monsters thousands of miles to the shows, to the schools, to the training classes, to the vets, to the parades. Our first inclination is to believe that we take our dogs many places. Then we begin to inventory our Stafford friends, our Stafford vacations, the blissful smile of making up a champion, and the unique situations we’ve been put in all because of these dogs. Finally we realize that it is not we who take the dogs places, it is they who navigate our adventures.

"Balance(d)" is a noun, a verb, and an adjective applicable to the archetype of dogs, people, beer and many other important things.

Picking the brains of countless judges and breed veterans whom I highly respect, I’ve ascertained that in and evaluating a "mess of Staffords" it is possible to lose ones sight, but one must never lose his vision; i.e. a Stafford Bull Terrier above all other points must be simply, yet distinctly Stafford.

Finally and foremost, in a recent conversation with a Stafford man who exudes creative canine knowledge, I figured out a little something that I have always known, but hadn’t been able to articulate until our conversation.

Some people have a passion for fine art, but a painting is static. It will always be. Some love music, inanimately frozen in recorded time.

But if you’re struck with this obscure muse known as the Stafford, you are forced to realize the complete cycle of its mortality and consequently, your own. You laugh at the awkward antics of inexperienced pup. You become friends with a distinct personality that merits a name. You find yourself gazing in silent awe at the beauty of the creature before you just as you begin picking up the distinct scent of a dog fart as it crescendos into an event that spoils the moment. Then, before you know it, the object of your love begins to fade. The textures softens, and the colors begin to run. The very life of the article is realized. The baby that was your inspiration becomes aged in a way that is not-so fine. Finally you are left with only photos, pedigrees, and memories that resolve themselves to common art. But then you do it all over again.

And that is the blessed curse of loving the living.