Justin Marozzi wrote a heartfelt piece for the Spectator a couple of weeks back about a genuinely horrifying experience he – and his poor dog – had suffered on a Norfolk beach thanks to a pair of vicious Bull Terriers and their owner. I can only sympathise: being mauled by out of control dogs is no laughing matter and this was a particularly savage attack. In reality I doubt there is much to be done in this case, if the dogs and their owner are found, other than to have the dogs humanely put down: they are clearly out of control.
But I would put in a plea for Bull Terriers in general. Contrary to popular myth, they were not bred to fight and, in my experience, having owned Bull Terriers for the past 13 years, they are actually friendly, affectionate and a delight to live with.
In reality, Bull Terriers were originally bred for showing and as pets, although from some breeds which had been bred for fighting. Like all terriers, they can be combative, but generally aren’t if they are properly socialised. The issue with them is that they are very strong. There’s a lot of muscle in a compact package.
As a family, we’ve owned two. Our first, Grizelda, was the dog that my three children grew up with. She was a perfect family pet. She would play gently with the children, and let them ride on her back when they were small. When we went to the park she would watch over them, but without becoming aggressive towards other people or dogs, simply inserting herself between the children and others who came too close to them. In fact, she was quite timid towards other dogs, preferring to stay close to us most of the time. In the evenings, she would happily lie on a rug in front of the fire in the living room, snuggled up with our various cats.
Augusta – ‘Gussie’ – is our current Bull Terrier. Fifteen months old and still quite puppyish, she is more sociable than Griz ever was and very happy to play gently with other dogs in Kensington Gardens. She has made friends with several of the park-keepers and many of the dogs and would love to be able to keep up with my wife’s dog, a ‘Kleiner Munsterlander’ (something between a Cocker Spaniel and a Pointer), who chases madly around, failing to catch squirrels. She is also desperate to play with our current cat – Weasel – but is non-plussed by Weasel’s refusal to chase or be chased around the house and generally bears the marks of a swipe or two across her nose from Weasel’s claws when she has become too importunate.
Dogs are dogs. if you provoke them enough they will become aggressive and dangerous. Justin Marozzi and his dog did nothing to provoke the two Bull Terriers that attacked them, but it seems likely that the Bullies’ owner had. This is true for Chihuahuas, Labradors, Dachshunds and Bull Terriers. Unfortunately, because of the strength of Bull Terriers, aggression can have serious consequences: both Gussie and Griz – in her time – could quite happily devour a complete hambone in 15-20 minutes. I would not want to bitten by a Bull Terrier. It would hurt.
So what? Honest answer: I don’t know. Some people acquire dogs and treat them in such a way that they become anxious, aggressive and dangerous. When this happens, some breeds of dog can do more damage than others, although all are dangerous enough in their own way. When I was young, dogs used to have to have licences – in other words, be registered with the State – which at least meant that ownership ought to be clear-cut but it’s hard to see how this would have any affect on how people nurture and treat their dogs in the real world.
All I can say is that the Bull Terriers who have kept me company are really rather wonderful.