Archive for February 2013

Paper Rounds, Pitbulls and Prisoner Cell Block H

Remember those after school jobs we all used to have? They seem a thing of the past nowadays as kids seem to get whatever they want without working for it. As a secondary school lad in the 80s I had a few after school jobs, the first was delivering the local free rag. Now this job entailed del-ivering several hundred papers one night a week on the local council estate, unfortunately, despite the then princely sum of £12, this job seemed almost impossible. I started as soon as I got home from school and was still pulling a half filled trolley behind me at 10p.m. that night; to my eternal shame I’m afraid to say that I hoofed the lot into the canal and resigned from the job. A few after school paid jobs followed, working in a garage, supermarket, washing cars yet the best job I ever had I did for free. It just goes to show that job satisfaction makes a big difference.

My friend at school had a brother who was 10 years older than us and in addition to his Staffy had three bulldogs. Two 7 month old littermates, a blue dog and a fawn and white bitch, and a stunning 45lb black dog called Jack. Amazingly he kennelled the two saplings together but Jack was kept on an 8 foot chain attached to his kennel.

The first time we walked the mile from our village to his house in the town, I was captivated by the beauty of these dogs, I had the Stratton books at home but this was the first time I had seen the real deal in the flesh. I was shown photograph albums of the kennels in Ireland where the dogs had come from, lent a copy of Bob Stevens’ book, Dogs of Velvet and Steel and spent an entire afternoon just fussing the dogs. My mate was uninterested in the dogs and had long since departed home as he had recorded last night’s Prisoner Cell Block H – there was something very wrong with a 14 year old boy who was obsessed with the goings on in an Australian women’s prison drama, yet he faithfully set the VHS each evening before bed. Granted, at that age I had seen a few films set in a prison staring women, but these films usually involved a very different ending, I think the term is happy!

Well I felt I had outlasted my welcome and was ecstatic when he asked if I would like to walk the dogs the next evening after school. After getting home from school and changing I walked to his house and was handed the rope leads for the two pups. The dogs were box-headed, sycophantic pups who, after covering me in saliva and fawning at my feet, allowed me to leash them and set off to exercise my new charges.

I used to walk those dogs for hours around the town, stopping occasionally to sit down and light a Players unfiltered ciggy I’d liberated from my grandad’s packet. After several weeks of reliably walking the dogs for miles each night the dogs started to resemble the canine version of Charles Atlas, in fact, I was walking these dogs so much my own poor pooch at home was getting less exercise than usual. I arrived one night to be told that I could walk Jack, wow, now I really was “the real deal”. Jack was fitted with a harness and the power of this dog was something I had never experienced before. Even as a teenager I was 6ft and 10 stone yet for the first mile I felt like a weakling being dragged by this canine mack truck. I would head for the local woods and find a branch to encourage Jack to leap up and hang, he had a bite like a crocodile and would often swing and gyrate enough to snap off branches thicker than my arm, bloody gums and snot blowing into the air. This dog thrived on regular exercise and I had never before seen a dog in such condition, his coat shone like a velvet shirt and his muscles rippled under the skin. The one thing Jack did display that the pups didn’t was a real, shall we say enthusiasm for other dogs. When we passed other dog walkers they usually gave us a wide berth as Jack either pulled like a juggernaut to get at them or performed 5 foot vertical leaps in his harness. I felt great pride in walking the dog, not only for the condition but because I was a teenager and as with most teenagers felt “cool” walking a dog like Jack.

One evening I had walked several miles with Jack, we had travelled through the woods and I decided to head through the town centre. I sat on a wall near the roundabout watching cars and having a puff on a Players Number 10 when I felt Jack lunge forward, I pulled him back in and saw the object of his attention was a similar looking bulldog being walked by a youth in his early twenties. His dog was also straining on his harness and the youth noticed me and headed over. This dog was similar in size but, unlike Jack, had obviously done more than just lots of roadwork. His front legs, muzzle, head and ears were heavily marked in old scars and I was about to put out my ciggy and resume my walk when he stopped 10ft away. “Your dog mate?” “Yes” I lied, or more aptly wished. “Nice, how’s he bred?”. Now I didn’t have a clue but didn’t want to sound like I didn’t so I blurted the first name I remembered from a book which probably made me sound even more of an idiot “He’s from Ireland but the breeding’s American, a dog called Jimmy Boots” why did I lie? The youth’s face was unmoved so he either didn’t have a clue who Jimmy Boots was or he thought I was a complete tool. “Fancy matching him against mine?” the youth casually asked. Rodger Cook was all the rage on tv back then and I looked around expecting the rotund personality to leap from behind a parked Maestro with a camera crew. “Err no” I stuttered, shocked that someone I met only 60 seconds earlier would ask such a thing. Not only was Jack not my dog but the thought of him getting hurt made my stomach churn. “He’s just a pet, I like walking him” was my feeble comeback and with that the youth dragged his dog away.
I left school at 15 and full time employment meant I stopped walking the dogs and concentrated on my own, it’s almost 25 years since my first taste of what I consider to be the perfect canine. The breed was underrated for its intelligence and had a drive, spirit and determination that to me has always been man’s greatest canine creation. Unfortunately, these same attributes attracted people with no dog experience and we all know how the story ended.

Many people introduced not only the American, but also other bull breeds into the lurcher melting pot and although many decry adding bull terrier blood into a running dog mix, I can honestly say I have seen, and owned some amazing dogs. One half cross dog I owned was, to me, and he only had to please me, the perfect dog. Not only was he the most laid back dog I have ever owned, his capacity to work was second to none. The dog never showed aggression to anything other than his quarry yet a few times other dogs started fights to their detriment. He could catch rabbits on the lamp, retrieving them live to hand as gentle as a spaniel yet in the same session he would kill foxes in seconds, often several times a night. A bitch I owned was of a similar temperament and every one I have owned has been biddable, intelligent and a pleasure to own.

Now I know they wouldn’t suit everyone, what cross does? What does irritate me is reading constant criticism of the cross as slow, bone-headed, no stamina blah, blah, blah. I wonder what examples of the cross they have seen as there are many variables, crosses and lines. There are many poor examples out there as breeding occurs far too often from inferior stock, just because it has bull blood doesn’t mean it’s a cracker, but in my mind when the correct ingredients are added to the melting pot, something truly special happens. Nowadays, with the changes in legislation,
I don’t need such a dog but I have fond memories of past dogs and don’t regret any of it.