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Mary Dejevsky

Mary Dejevsky: Nice words and a soft toy won't be enough to save this dog's reputation


It's a pity the furore about over-breeding led the BBC to give up its coverage of Crufts. I find it hard to keep track, now it's been exiled to More4. In fact, the only reason I realised it was that time of year again was a poster that appeared on the bus stop at Kensington Gardens with a picture of a winsome knitted puppy – pattern available from the website – and the slogan: "Staffies. They're softer than you think."

Anyway, what struck me most about the Kennel Club's annual bone-feast was how international it has become over a couple of decades. This year's reserve Best in Show was a Newfoundland from Slovakia, with a Pomeranian from Sweden and an Old English sheepdog from Hungary in the final line-up. Candidates for Best in Group came from all over, including the US, Russia, Hungary and Italy. It just shows what can happen when easier travel coincides with a liberalisation of the UK's quarantine regulations and the end of the Cold War. Globalisation is for dogs, too.

Back to a very local issue, though. The reason for the Staffies campaign, being run by Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and promoted at Crufts, is that Staffordshire terriers or cross-breeds accounted for more than one in three of all dogs that ended up at Battersea last year. This is also – something that may not be unconnected – the breed (or, more likely, cross) you will most frequently encounter on the meaner city streets, snarling at you from the end of a short lead or cowering for fear of a beating.

It seems to me that these so-called "weapon dogs" used to be bigger, but perhaps feeding and exercise, along with controllability, became a problem, along with the outlawing of pit-bulls. So nice-sized, legal and eminently trainable Staffies filled the gap. One result has been an exponential rise in the number being bred, leading directly to the scandalous number now being abandoned. But the difficulty in finding them new homes is not just how many there are, but their reputation. A Staffy may, as the Battersea Dogs Home advert says, be a "great family pet", a natural "nanny" dog, "loving, loyal and reliable", but its advocates, in protesting so much, accept that this is a dog with a very bad name.

The rehabilitation campaign was first launched in November. But it's been revived because March is the peak month for dogs to be abandoned, as – so one theory goes – new owners tire of their Christmas presents. There were Staffies aplenty at Crufts, their devoted owners showing the breed at its best. But I suspect the only way to stop the slaughter – there comes a time when putting an unwanted dog to sleep is the only answer – is for legitimate breeders to diversify into something furrier and friendlier, and wait for the wrong sort of Staffy fashion to fade.

A master in tune with his keyboard

Roger, they said, would sort me out. We finally fixed on a day and a time for him to come – not easy, as this is a man who knows something about work-life balance and doesn't travel in the rush hour. His task was to tune, and teach me to tune, my clavichord – a uniquely quiet keyboard instrument that you can safely play in a flat without annoying or advertising your incompetence to your neighbours.

On the first, he was completely successful. On the second, only marginally so. I quailed at the risk of slipping the little felt pads under the wrong string, turning the tuning handle too heavily (to snapping point), and not identifying when the correct pitch had been reached. Mostly, though, he failed because I was content to watch.

It's a pleasure to see someone doing something quite different from what you do all day, and doing it with such satisfaction and accomplishment. With my clavichord came a new wooden-handled tuner; Roger's was worn down so it fitted his hand. In a way, that said all anyone needed to know.