How I got my first Stafford
(or how I founded the Breed in Finland - before SBTC/USA)
EARLY STAFFORD DAYS IN FINLAND
When Maini and I decided to obtain a family pet for our young and growing family in Munkkivuori, Finland, I was astounded to find that quite unlike the U.S. "free puppies" scarcely existed in Finland.
Faced with the daunting prospect of actually having to pay hard cash for a dog, I went to the Finnish Kennel Club and proceeded to research the matter.
Photos and text about the Staffordshire Bull Terrier immediately caught my eye, but not a single specimen existed in Finland, so I turned to material about English Bull Terriers and found that several specimens had been imported into Finland, including one bitch who at the time seemed to be infertile.
I then perused the Dog World Annual and found several inviting ads, the most appealing of which was John Gordon's Bandits Kennels.
Mail inquiries to several kennels brought prompt responses from all, but Mr. Gordon's seemed most satisfactory. In early March of 1964 I began preparing to import Finland first Stafford.
The paperwork and currency regulations of that day proved formidable obstacles. A human tourist merely had to show up with a passport and visa, but puppies were evidently considered a threat to national security.
Eventually, however, all the red tape got sorted out, the English Kennel Club papers were in hand, and the day for shipping the puppy was fast approaching.
One of my best students of English was Aimo Selivuo, a Finnair mechanic, whose wife volunteered to fly to England to take possession of the puppy and bring her back, which she most kindly did.
Bandits Belle-lettres (Bella) arrived at Seutala Airport on April 6, 1964, a three-month old red-fawn bitch puppy sired by Torso of Tottington (2 CC's) ex Trildans Amber Lass. (Mrs. Selivuo reported that the airline stewardesses thought the puppy might have died enroute because she remained completely silent, never once whining or barking.)
At the time, Finnish import regulations required a veterinary to be on hand at Seutala to inspect the puppy upon her arrival. The vet inspected her, pronounced her fit, and declared, "Well, this is one breed that will never become popular in Finland," a remark destined to rank high among the Famous Last Words of Scandinavian dogdom.
Bella immediately set about conquering the hearts of the dog-loving Finnish people, and soon some of them were making plans to bring Staffords into their homes. Kalervo Jäntti of Lahti received his bitch puppy Bandits Mountainash Xmas Anna on July 14, 1964, and our neighbor Olavi Åberg got his dog puppy Towans Lord John on October 16, 1964, both from John Gordon.
Then a pivotal event in Finnish Stafford history took place when Kalervo Jantti's good friend Dr. Hakon Westermarck, Director of the Finnish State Veterinary College, traveled to Lahti with his newly-acquired English Bull Terrier puppy.
Each man looked a the other's dog and exclaimed in unison, "That's the kind of dog I tried to get in the first place!" The two friends promptly exchanged papers and puppies -- and that is how the late Dr. Westermarck obtained his much-beloved Sherry. As everyone knows, Dr. Westermarck became Finland's leading supporter and promoter of the Breed.
All three Stafford puppies in Finland were too young to breed or show, so the next few months were devoted to housebreaking, training, and socialization.
Soon the Finnish Terrier Club announced it was organizing a charter flight to Crufts dog show in London in early February, 1965. I signed up, knowing the trip would give me an opportunity to see English Staffords, meet English breeders, and bring puppies back with me without having to incur the usual air-freight charges.
Crufts, held in the enormous Olympia Hall, was my first dog show. Mr. Gordon was judging some one hundred Staffords that day, a feat that seemed well-nigh impossible to one who had never before seen more than three Staffords in one place.
For the return trip, Mr. Gordon had selected the bitch puppy Bandits Brindadulci for Tuomas Karhumäki, Bandits Brindaranee for Olavi Virpio, and Bandits Brindaroya for me. Brindaroya was to go to Pekka and Sinikka Hyttinen on breeding terms. The three puppies came back with me from the Crufts trip, doubling Finland's Stafford population. (I also brought back a black Standard Poodle dog puppy, a Yorkshire Terrier bitch puppy, and a black Labrador dog puppy for some non-Stafford friends.)
In April, the Åbergs and I decided to enter Beau and Bella in the All-Terrier show at Laaksokenttä as the first Staffords ever to be exhibited in the Finnish show ring. (If memory serves, Dr. Westermarck was unable to show Sherry due to a prior commitment.)
At ringside we were somewhat apprehensive because the dogs, the Åbergs, and the Stones were perfect neophytes to showing, but we soon discovered that we had nothing on the Danish judge. When that gentleman turned around in the ring and saw the two Staffords, he was completely nonplussed. He shook his head as though to clear his sight, came over, stared, and then gingerly lifted Beau's perfect rose ears erect in hopes that doing so would "improve" the dog or at least make something about him seem familiar.
Nothing helped. The poor judge promptly gave each of us a ribbon and dismissed us.
In early summer, Sherry was bred to Beau and produced a fine litter of five, each named after a particular cocktail drink. Finland's first litter was a major event and, of course, added materially to Finland's growing Stafford population.
Two months later Bella produced her first litter sired by Beau, a red dog pup named The Bearcat and an all-white bitch pup named Bearcats Blizzard.
In October, 1965, Olavi Virpio's Bandits Brindaculci, not yet a year old, made headline news as the first Stafford anywhere ever to run down a moose ("hirvi") so that her owner could shoot it. Needless to say, Scandinavian sporting folk everywhere were impressed, and the resulting news coverage was excellent publicity for the Breed.
At the November, 1965, International All-Breeds Show held at the old Messuhalli, we showed Beau, Sherry, and Bella under the famous all-arounder Leo Wilson who pronounced them good representatives of the Breed. I believe that Sherry actually got the best "review" from him.
Several breeders of other breeds stopped by to see our Staffords, and one of them scoffed at what he considered their diminutive size. Then he watched while Beau demolished a new rawhide ball in a few minutes before departing with an expression of new respect.
For months I had been planning to fly to the next Crufts show in early February, 1966, and arrived in England the day before my thirty-fifth birthday.
As the previous year, I remember returning with five Staffords puppies, two bitches and a dog, plus an adult pied bitch named Gina. The latter had been bred to a noted stud dog in England, but her much-anticipated litter never materialized.
Two of the puppies I brought back have slipped my mind, but I do remember the dark brindle bitch puppy Bandits Wirswall Judy the Gamest which became the highly-successful foundation bitch for Anja Virtanen. Mrs. Kotro got a very nice bitch puppy as a companion to The Bearcat which she had purchased from Bella's first litter the previous year. And the dog puppy Bandits Red Khedive went to a happy owner.
For non-Stafford friends I also brought an Old English Sheepdog puppy and a Yorkshire Terrier.
By the end of the long and bitter winter of 1965-66, Stafford matters in Finland were beginning to pick up steam. We managed to import a very nice dark brindle stud dog Foreclip Sir Bedivere, the first adult imported male. We were planning to come out in force at the Spring All-Terrier show at Laaksokenttä, where we hoped to have an Stafford specialist from England judge our dogs.
Also, Sherry and Bella were due to be bred for their second litters. Bandits Brindaroya and a number of young bitches were due to whelp for the first time. In fact, it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of all our dogs and their doings.
Although many Finnish fanciers of the long-established breeds were still skeptical of our chances, Staffords were on their way to becoming a force in Finnish dogdom. It had become time for the Stafford fancy to become "respectable" in Finnish dogdom, and to this end Professor Westermarck, Olavi Åberg, and I started the job of translating the Breed Standard into both Finnish and Swedish. It was an enlightening and humbling experience for us all, but soon the work was completed.
That done, the next step was to start planning a Breed Club that would be founded later in the year when more dogs and more owners would be available.
Dr. Westermarck also hit upon an idea that only he could implement, namely, to bring all adult Staffords in Finland to the State Veterinary College for X-rays to determine if any had hip dyspasia, at that time a dreaded scourge in many other breeds.
Dr. Westermarck X-rayed all available adults, eleven in all if memory serves, and not one of them had any sign of hip dyspasia. Since our dogs were purposely imported from a wide variety of bloodlines and kennels, Dr. Westermarck felt that these eleven "clear" individuals proved that the disease was either non-existent or nearly so in Staffords everywhere.
At the time, not everyone in Finland or even in England understood the far-ranging implications of his findings, but they at the very least proved to be invaluable in the promotion of the Breed in Finland.
Stafford fanciers felt fortunate when Colin Smith, whose father George Smith was the breeder of Towans Lord John, accepted the task of judging at Laaksokenttä on May 31, 1966.
Almost 30 Staffords entered the All-Terrier show - an improvement of 1500 percent compared with the two entries at the previous show. Suddenly, for the first time but hardly for the last time, Stafford entries ranked near the top of the terrier list.
I do not recall which dogs were placed at that show because placings were secondary to the fact was that the Breed was the real winner. Never again could Staffords be overlooked or ignored in Finnish dog shows.
(It may be worth mentioning that not once did I ever take a penny beyond actual expenses for importing or helping to import any Stafford, either in Finland or in the United States. It is also worth mentioning that John Gordon did a superb job of selecting puppies to send to Finland. He was always meticulously honest and completely reliable in his business dealings.)
When Colin Smith returned to England after the Laaksokenttä show, he reported to John Gordon that Finnish Staffords were indeed on their way.
As planned, we founded the Northern Star Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club of Finland.
Later Colin would return to Finland, this time to remain.
Although our family had decided to move to the United States in August of 1966, I did show Bella at two conveniently-located dog shows to let her win a pair of CAC's (Finnish Championship Certificates) just to prove that she had "the right stuff." Because I took her from Finland when she was only two and a half years old, Finnish Stafford folk never had a chance to see her at maturity. At only thirteen and a half inches and 22 pounds, she was tiny but perfect in every other respect.
Show-ring championships, however, were not much on my mind as Maini and I prepared to take Eva-Marie, six years old, and Mark, two years old, to the U.S. where I would begin graduate studies at Occidental College, leading to a professorship in my home state, Nebraska, and Eva-Marie would begin elementary school.
I wanted to raise our children in Nebraska, as I had been raised, not because doing so would offer them better opportunity than they would have had in Finland but because doing so offered them more different kinds of opportunity.
So on August 13, 1966, nine years and nine months after I had arrived in Finland, I departed with an easy mind: I had learned the Finnish language the hard way - for speakers of English there is no easy way; most of the sprinters and hurdlers I had coached in HKV and HNU had won championships and were going on to highly successful careers in government, medicine, law enforcement, education; the anthology of contemporary Finnish poetry that Leo Vuosalo and I had translated while students at UCLA was in its fourth edition; my translation of Rosvo Roope sung by the Delta Rhythm Boys had been a semi-permanent feature on the Finnish Hit Parade one summer; the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students to whom I had taught English seemed like close relatives as did my friends from Saimaanranta; and even my very first Finnish friends, members of the the Härveli springboard diving club, understood why I was leaving.
As our family boarded the Boeing 707 at Seutala, I had in my pocket a list of the only known U.S. Stafford owners - six of them.
But that is another story.