Nobody Keeps Baby in the Corner

My little friend from a few weeks ago escaped from her yard and found me again yesterday, but this time wearing a collar complete with name and phone number. So everyone, you may now officially meet Lilly, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

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She wants you to throw the stick. She wants anyone to throw the stick. I’ve never had a dog that enjoyed making “fetch” happen this much before (did you remember that yesterday was October Third, official international Mean Girls Day?), and though we had to go over a few ground rules (no diving for the stick while I’m picking it up, no snatching it out of my hand, no jumping up to lick my face when she brought it back) we had a rollicking good time.

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Staffies, as they’re referred to in this neighborhood (which seems to host a fair number of them, actually) are supposed to be both fearless and affectionate, which describes her pretty well. As she’s been visiting a house of biologists she’s been well observed, traits mentally catalogued, body condition assessed, behavior analyzed. It’s basically unavoidable habit at this point: we can’t help but notice the shape of her head (triangular, similar to carnivorous seals and supported by a strong neck, likely advantageous for vigorous shaking of prey), her short but muscled legs (well-adapted for lunging), and her very short fur, ideal for warm climates and not getting tangled in things. She’s a tough-looking little pup- if she weren’t always trying to lick my face or curl up in my lap, I guess I might think she was intimidating?

Apparently the breed was intended originally for bull baiting, in the days of “blood sport,” and have recently received a fair bit of bad press for similarity to pit bulls and other related terriers here in Australia (New South Wales, in particular). I suppose these sorts of things should make me warier than I am, but Lilly hasn’t shown even a twitch of aggression while I’ve been in her presence. The other characteristics this breed is known for are loyalty and rapid progress of affection, both of which I think it’s safe to say I’ve found.

I’m still not sure how I feel about intensive dog breeding. Inbreeding is a huge issue, and creating dogs for looks rather than health seems both dangerous and cruel. As a biologist I clearly have lots of thoughts about natural selection, but the purposeful selection of companion animals by humans makes me uncomfortable… Essentially what we’ve done to dogs is arrest their mental development. They act like wolf pups, lower in aggression, higher in loyalty and affection, shorter puppy-like faces and sweeter temperaments. On top of those traits, we continue to select and mate dogs for characteristics that can be detrimental to the dogs themselves- large heads, long bodies and vulnerable backs, size that cuts their life spans down by years… I love them all- ask any of my housemates, any of the Costa Rica 2013 crew, anyone in my family. But I still can’t imagine getting a pup anywhere but from a shelter or another person’s home.

Which is not to say that I will be stealing Lilly and being her best friend forever.

I probably won’t.

But I’d like to.

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