Gone Away ~ The journal of Clive Allen in America

Josie 1

In my recent post entitled Brutus and the Bully, I mentioned Josie, my first and greatest Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Having grown up with Staffies, it was always my intention to get one as soon as we had a place with a yard big enough to contain it. When we moved to Bulawayo, these circumstances applied at last and the hunt for the right Staffie began.

We found her on a farm several miles outside the city; she was one of a litter born to the household dogs, both Staffies. Her father was a red, incredibly fit from roaming the farm all day, muscled as only Staffies can be. And her mother was almost as tough, brindled and smaller, but just as fit.

All of the pups were brindle and, at first sight, indistinguishable from each other. But I watched them interact and soon their differing personalities emerged. There was one who, although one of the smallest, would take no interference from the others. I pointed at her and said, "That's the one." The owners marked her with a dab of yellow dye so that we would know her when we came to pick her up in two weeks time.

She was eight weeks old when she moved in with us; the right age for a pup starting a new life. And she was ready to be the family dog from day one, exploring her surroundings with enthusiasm, happy to be the focus of attention and never once crying for her mother. Incredibly, she turned out to be house-trained, in spite of having been brought up on the farmhouse verandah; I can only presume that this was an extra service performed by the owners yet never mentioned by them. They were old aristocracy and had a quiet, unassuming approach to life, making light of their considerable achievements and getting on with whatever needed to be done.

Choosing a name for a Staffie is easy when it's male and very difficult when it's a female. Names like Bandit, Brutus, Butch and Billy give one a sense of the Staffie's character, as well as all beginning with B. But there are so few female names that properly describe a Staffie bitch. In the end, I settled for Josie, soon to be abbreviated to Jo, as giving at least a hint of the toughness and mischief inherent in the breed. Jo was to live up to all that and more.

A Staffie pup is a solid cube of energy and fun with very sharp teeth at one end. Any owner will soon have puncture wounds all over his hands as the pup learns just how hard it can bite in play and still get away with. The interesting thing about Josie was that she knew from the start how far she could go with each one of us. I was adjudged the toughest and acquired the usual scabs and scars as a result; my wife was given only mock bites that did not leave a mark. And my son, Mad, who was four years old at the time, she would not bite, stopping well short of using her teeth. This would have been remarkable in a six month old dog; in a pup so young it was evidence of an extraordinary awareness.

As Josie grew, she showed other signs of her exceptional intelligence. Mad had worked out how to climb the gate to the yard and open it and would often slip out unnoticed to wander the neighborhood. The roads were not busy in our area but, even so, it became a constant worry that he would be run over on one of his unofficial escapades. Once Josie arrived, Mad found that he had a companion who would always see him opening the gate and then shepherd him back to safety.

Our house at the time was very close to the edge of the city's development and there was open countryside within a short distance of us. This was typical of the land around Bulawayo: flat, dry earth covered with short, scrubby grass and dotted with occasional low trees. And here Josie and I would go for long walks every day, although it might be more exact to say that it was a stroll for me and a mad dash and chase for her. While I walked a mile, she would run everywhere, covering at least five miles in the same time.

There were plovers nesting in the more open areas at certain times of the year and these saw to Josie's fitness too, pretending to have a broken wing to lure her away from the nest, then taking off inches from her snapping jaws. She tried again and again to catch one but they were always too quick for her. They would dive bomb her too and she would leap into the air as they flew just above her, again never quite managing to grab one. It was a wild game, sometimes continuing for half an hour or more, and Josie became tirelessly fit in her pursuit of the brazen birds.

She invented games with me, too, her favorite being to come haring up the path behind me, daring me to sidestep out of her way. I would hear her coming, the pounding paws and panting breath, and I knew that I should keep going as though completely unaware of the approaching nemesis. Then she would make the smallest of deviations at the last moment, to brush past me at top speed before returning to the path. Only once did I make the mistake of moving to let her pass. It had been raining and I did not fancy being sprayed with mud as she passed me, so I sidestepped to give her room. Unfortunately, she had chosen to pass me on that side and she cannoned into my leg, knocked it clean from under me and I found myself sitting suddenly on my backside in the mud. She apologized profusely but I could see in her eyes the admonishment - "You moved! Don't ever move!"

It was this game of chicken that taught me something about Staffies that I would not believe had I not seen it myself. As I mentioned in a comment somewhere, Josie broke ordinary dog leashes within days and I was forced in the end to buy a piece of horse harness and adapt it as a leash. It was very long and, once we had reached the open veld and I let her off the leash, I would wind it around my belt loops and let the end dangle down the side of one leg. There was a metal clasp at the end for attaching to the collar, one of those with the spring that prevents release once closed, and this was to prove our undoing.

One day I was ambling down the path as usual and Josie was tearing about, occasionally indulging in the chicken game. Once more I heard her pounding towards me from behind and steeled myself for the moment she came hurtling past. All went as usual until she was a few feet in front of me then suddenly she was thrown into the air and thumped back to earth. The hook on the leash had caught in the corner of her eye and stopped her as though she'd run into a wall. It took a moment for me to realize what had happened, then I removed the hook and inspected her eye for damage. She was completely unharmed. The skin around her eye was so tough that it must have stretched like an elastic when the hook caught and stopped her, but it was not broken and I could see no evidence of tearing or bleeding at all. And Jo, apart from one yell of pain and surprise at the instant of sudden arrest, shrugged it off as nothing, wanting only to be released to run and play again.

Needless to say, I never let the end of the leash dangle again after that. But the strength of a Staffie's skin is amazing. At top speed, they are capable of perhaps thirty miles an hour; she came past me at that speed and was brought to a stop in a few inches by the skin at the corner of her eye. The forces involved are staggering and the complete lack of damage even more so.

All this rushing about brought Josie to a peak of physical fitness that I have seen in no other dog. She was "leggy" for a Stafford, lighter in build than most these days, but fine-tuned in hard muscle and with stamina to match. On occasion, she would startle a buck on our walks through the veld and, of course, would be off after it immediately. At such times, Staffies have selective deafness and no amount of yelling and calling would bring her back. I learned not to be concerned; she was never going to catch the buck and would give up eventually. In an hour or two she'd turn up back at home, pleased with her little chase and ready for more.

Incidentally, I have always regarded this selective deafness in the Stafford as a sign of superior intelligence. A Staffie will understand orders quicker than other dogs but retains final say on whether to obey or not. It takes a stupid dog to be trained to the point of instant obedience.

Which is not to say that Staffies are untrainable; they will go along with what you want, if only to please you, and may give the appearance of being well behaved. But their demeanor will show that it is all done on sufferance and only because you're the boss. Let something more important turn up and the Staffie will throw all training away in an instant. It's a matter of priorities, you see...

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When I escaped if she couldn't alert a family member to my break for freedom she would accompany me. I had the best body guard in Rhodesia!
Date Added: 18/05/2006

Gone Away
That you did, Mad. I still have a mental picture of the two of you toddling off down the road, with Jo trying to turn you around every step of the way. ;)
Date Added: 18/05/2006

Fragile Industries
Your thoughtful tribute reminded me of the breed I'd choose if I ever became hopelessly allergic to my clouter of cats and went to the dogs, so to speak. Ever since I first saw an English Bull Terrier in the film "Patton," I knew that was the dog for me. English bulls became popular for a nanosecond in the late '80's due to the advertising mascot for Bud Lite Beer, Spuds MacKenzie, but were quickly replaced by the pit bull. I thought the campaign cheapened the dignity of the breed, but it did capture the goofiness of their long faces and little beady eyes. They are, like all bull terriers including your beloved Jo, tirelessly energetic and aggressive (if only in play) so I would need to alter my more leisurely, cat-like lifestyle to own one and keep it happy. For that reason, I'm unlikely to ever call an English Bull my own. The best I can hope for is that a friend will have one and I can play loving auntie. That's been my strategy with children, as well. None of my own, but I love to be their Auntie Mame. This is long enough that I think I'll transform this into a blog post. Really enjoy your blog! Keep it up!
Date Added: 18/05/2006

Gone Away
Glad you like it, Fragile! I, too, like the looks of the English Bull Terrier and my father owned one, Rufus (he was red in color), that has received mention before in this blog. They are closely related to the Stafford but are different in character, being more aggressive and happy-go-lucky. Having known both breeds, I have to say that the Stafford is the better, especially if you don't want to end up continually separating dog fights - the Stafford will fight only if challenged by another dog, the Bull fights for fun. The difference is apparent in their faces: the photo in your latest post is an excellent example of the rascally, piratic appeal of the Bull; but the strength and intelligence of the Staffie is apparent in a photo like this. Both breeds are a barrel of fun, however, as any owner will confirm.

I must congratulate you too, Fragile, on completing your quest to find the owner of the Geico gecko's voice! Readers consumed with curiosity should have a look at Fragile's post on the subject.
Date Added: 18/05/2006

Fragile Industries
That is one fine-looking animal. And intelligence counts for a lot in pets. I had heard that the English Bull is, er, not always the sharpest knife in the drawer. I have a terribly inbred cat, Rupert (shades of Rufus), who I rescued as a four-week old feral. There was a feral tribe in our neighborhood that had degrees of relation so intertwined the family tree looked like a Celtic knot. Little Rupert has grown into an enormous creature, very "slow," but due to my intensive mothering of him as a kitten, incredibly loving and sweet. He thinks he is still a kitten, and has a homoerotic relationship with my older male cat, Peabody who puts up with Rupert's affections. Possibly, Rupert thinks Peabody is his mama. Anyway, one Special Olympics pet is enough.
Date Added: 18/05/2006

That was a beautiful, descriptive essay on Staffordshire Bull Terriers. I was unfamiliar with the breed before, but I feel intimate with it now. I've always preferred purebred dogs because of the steadiness of certain traits besides looks. Many of the early breeds were designed for specific talents, including enough intelligence to discern situations. I doubt I'll ever own a Staffie, but when I see one from now own, what a rich and textured image my mind will perceive.
Date Added: 19/05/2006

Gone Away
I even managed to get a post out of a cat, Fragile - The Cat of a Thousand Names. But that was about Fritz and he was a bit different from most cats; for one thing, he was in training to be a dog... ;)
Date Added: 19/05/2006

Gone Away
Thank you for your kind words re the post, Houston - they are much appreciated. I have looked at your blogs (yes, both of them) and must congratulate you on their excellence - truly a rarity in the blogosphere these days.
Date Added: 19/05/2006

That was lovely - thank you for sharing! I haven’t been making it around my blogroll much lately, but trying to play catch up today. Hope you have a great weekend! I miss you - stop by sometime!
Date Added: 19/05/2006

Gone Away
Will do, Marti. It gets busy, doesn't it?
Date Added: 19/05/2006

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