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How I got my first Stafford by Norm Fasey

Norm and Penny.

Hi Everyone,

I thought I would take the time to introduce myself to the list by sending in a 'How I got my first Stafford' story.

In 1981, I was admitted to hospital with some weakness and loss of sensation in my left leg. It turned out from tests that I had something called a Spinal Glioma -a cyst on the spinal cord which was causing paralysis and loss of feeling. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I left hospital six months later after some pretty grueling Physiotherapy, Radio Therapy and surgery. I was now confined to a wheelchair with not only weakness of the left leg but complete paralysis from the mid Thorax down.

Before I went into hospital, I was living with my girlfriend and daughter in a small flat in a tower block in SE London. Now it seemed that I could not go back and carry on living the way I did. The flat was not equipped for a wheelchair user and also my relationship had deteriorated whilst I was in hospital. That's another story that I won't get into.

Suffice to say, I had reached a low point in my life and was now having to live with my father in a ground floor flat on the other side of town. I had become very isolated. Not wanting to do anything but watch TV all day, eat, sleep and not care very much about myself. I had begun to put on weight and must have looked a sorry sight! /p>

I was brought up in a family where we had always had dogs. These dogs were of no particular breed because families in the part of London where I came from couldn't afford pedigreed dogs. But I grew up around dogs, knowing what they need to be happy. Plenty of exercise, feeding, occasional medical care, etc. There was not a time when we didn't have a canine companion in house since I was the age of three. My partner and I did not have a dog in the small flat in the tower block before I went into hospital because we both worked full time and the place was small. But it now seemed a good time for me to get a dog again for a few reasons. One: I thought it would do me good to have something that I could care for rather than being cared for myself by other people. Two: it would give me something to think about, a reason to get up in the morning. And three: I now had plenty of time and space to care for a dog.

I started to think about what I wanted in a dog and came up with the following Criteria.

In 1981, I was admitted to hospital with some weakness and loss of sensation in my left leg. It turned out from tests that I had something called a Spinal Glioma -a cyst on the spinal cord which was causing paralysis and loss of feeling. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I left hospital six months later after some pretty grueling Physiotherapy, Radio Therapy and surgery. I was now confined to a wheelchair with not only weakness of the left leg but complete paralysis from the mid Thorax down.

Before I went into hospital, I was living with my girlfriend and daughter in a small flat in a tower block in SE London. Now it seemed that I could not go back and carry on living the way I did. The flat was not equipped for a wheelchair user and also my relationship had deteriorated whilst I was in hospital. That's another story that I won't get into.

Suffice to say, I had reached a low point in my life and was now having to live with my father in a ground floor flat on the other side of town. I had become very isolated. Not wanting to do anything but watch TV all day, eat, sleep and not care very much about myself. I had begun to put on weight and must have looked a sorry sight!

I was brought up in a family where we had always had dogs. These dogs were of no particular breed because families in the part of London where I came from couldn't afford pedigreed dogs. But I grew up around dogs, knowing what they need to be happy. Plenty of exercise, feeding, occasional medical care, etc. There was not a time when we didn't have a canine companion in house since I was the age of three. My partner and I did not have a dog in the small flat in the tower block before I went into hospital because we both worked full time and the place was small. But it now seemed a good time for me to get a dog again for a few reasons. One: I thought it would do me good to have something that I could care for rather than being cared for myself by other people. Two: it would give me something to think about, a reason to get up in the morning. And three: I now had plenty of time and space to care for a dog.

I started to think about what I wanted in a dog and came up with the following Criteria.

  1. It would have to be a dog that was full of energy and had character.
  2. I can't stand dogs that need a lot of grooming. It would have to be short haired.
  3. It would have to be a dog that I could enjoy from a wheelchair. Not too big that it would knock me over when it greeted me, not too small that it would be easily run over :).
  4. I can't stand 'namby pamby' dogs that can't stick up for themselves or do everything they are told. I like 'em to be a bit feisty!
  5. I wanted a dog that would be a lot of fun and keep me on my toes, so to speak.

So, I started to look through a book on dogs to see which breed might fit all my criteria. I first eliminated all the categories that where too big. Dogs such as Mastiffs, Great Danes, etc. All lovely dogs but a bit too much for me to handle. Spaniels? Nah! Too much grooming for most of them, to well behaved as well. A hound of some sort? Some of them need less grooming, some of them are a good size. Such as beagles. But they seemed to lack that certain 'something' that spark of mischievousness. I then started to look at the Terrier class. Most of them were the right size, most of them needed little or no grooming, most terriers definitely have that spark of mischievousness about them.

I must of looked at a picture of a Stafford in this book at the time but it did not do the breed justice. It was an old, small, black and white photo of a white dog standing in the 'show' position. I think I must of glanced at the photo and turned to the next page.

I was a month into my search for the right dog for me and no where nearer finding it! It was then that my dad came home and said he had just met an old work friend walking his dog. He had asked the guy what kind of dog it was and he told my dad it was a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. This was the early 80's and they had started to get popular in the UK again. This dog however was about 8 years old so this guy had not been caught up in the then current craze for this breed. After a short conversation with the guy, my dad had formed the opinion that this was probably the right breed of dog for me. He came home and told me all about it.

I looked again at my book of dogs and read more closely the description of the breed. It was a condensed version of the Breed Standard. All the criteria where there. Little or no grooming, lots of courage, great with kids, great strength for their size, great companions. I decided they were the dog for me even though I had not seen one in person.

Finding a pup was not as hard as I thought. I bought a copy of 'Exchange and Mart', not exactly a prestigious dog periodical I know, but it always had lots of advertisements for different breeds of dogs. There were a few adverts for Staffords and I rang a breeder on the South Coast. I went there the next day.

When I was there at the breeders, I committed two errors. First, I did not get to see the mom of the pups. It was explained that she was a little protective of the pups and might be a little funny. Secondly, I did not check her credentials as a breeder. It turned out later that I found out this was one of those one off litters so that the woman could make a bit of cash. No great care was taken to select the right sire for a start.

A cardboard box containing 4 pups was put down in front of me and one of the pups came over to say hello and sniff the wheelchair. I decided to take her home with me there and then. And so I met Penny, my first Stafford. Below is a photo of me and Penny on the momentous day back in 1983.

Penny as a puppy on Norm's lap.
Penny as a puppy in Norm's lap.

Penny grew quickly and proved to be everything I ever wanted in a dog. Despite here dubious heritage, despite the fact I could never show her because one of her parents was not KC registered. She was Stafford through and through! Not massive in size! In fact she was what I now know to be what is known as a Terrier Type. Weighing in at around 30 pounds and standing at 15" tall at the withers. She looked a lot like the dogs pictured in the early part of the 20th century. Very similar in expression to Loiness Dam of Tough Guy but obviously not the same colour. She was truly game for anything. Never once backing down from any challenge in life. Whether it be chasing the cat, playing tug, carrying the biggest stick she could find or trying to put every dog in their place who tried to start trouble. She was not one to start a fight but she would not back down from any dog until I made her do so. I am not one to see a dog get injured to prove a point. She had already proved she would not back down. So, 'those who turn and walk away, live to fight another day' as the saying goes. She also installed some of the 'gameness' in me. Making me believe once more in my own ability to overcome the odds with my disability. She made me laugh, she made me cry when she died in the mid 90's of 'old age'. She gave me a reason to live again and gave me a new outlook of life.

As soon as Penny was big enough for me to take out, I decided that I wanted to walk her and not anyone else. I put her on the lead and opened the gate. Whoosh! She was off with me holding on to the lead. It was a great feeling of freedom as we gathered speed and made our way around the neighborhood. She found it easy to pull me along in the wheelchair without me even forcing her to do so. I only had to get the lead from the back of the kitchen door and she went nuts! She was a very vocal dog and loved to talk to you when it was walkies time! I found it easy to steer her the way I wanted to go and also to stop her when needed. You just had to move the lead left or right depending on the way you wanted to go. We became well known local figures in the area of London where I lived. Some people would smile as we went past. Some people marveled at this little dogs strength. Others just shouted 'Mush' as we went past. When she had enough, she would start to walk to heel and I would take her home. The distance got further and further each day though! That was, if there wasn't any cats around. If she saw a cat, even if she was completely exhausted, she would find some inner strength from somewhere to try to pull me over to where the cat was. I would consider that to be a good example of gameness (coupled with a strong prey drive) without having to test it through fighting with another dog. When we got home, she would then lie in that typical Stafford way with both rear legs sticking out. This great big smile on her face as if to say "wow Dad! That was fun!!!". Those where happy days! Not only did it keep Penny fit, but I began to shed the pounds as well.

If it wasn't for that little dog, I don't think I would be where I am now today. I went to Uni and got my degree in Computer Science, I now have a successful career, a loving family and another Stafford came into my life 5 weeks ago! A two year old Red Bitch from the Jackstaff Kennels. That's another story! I traveled to the States and spent six months living in Omaha, Nebraska. Never realising that it had such connections with my favourite breed. Next time I am out there, which could be soon, I will be sure to keep an eye out for Staffords walking the streets of Omaha :). It took me a while to get over the loss of Penny and at first I felt disloyal to her memory when my new girl entered my life. But I know I will meet her again on Rainbow Bridge. That knowledge gives me great comfort. Tilly is helping me realise just how much I missed having one of these great little dogs around the house. I will leave stories of Tilly and how I came to get her for another day.

Penny all grown up.

This is a picture of my Penny all grown up. She was the greatest Stafford that ever lived. But then again I am biased. Since getting my first Stafford, I have read many books about them and also books about so called 'fighting' breeds in general. I wouldn't say I am an expert. It's more common sense advice I can offer from knowing the breed for close on to 20 years. I look forward to reading all the messages that come through from the list.

Best regards,

Norm Fasey


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