The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a popular, but much-maligned breed in the UK. Over ten years 356,000 were microchipped here, making them the third most popular breed in that time period, behind Labrador Retrievers and Jack Russell Terriers. This doesn't even count the many thousands that are not microchipped, a number that should be decreasing as the April 2016 deadline for mandatory microchipping of dogs approaches.
Staffies, as they are colloquially known, are a friendly and loyal breed. Their small stature belies their muscular strength and weight. They can be high-energy, especially when young, but this activity comes in bursts. In between they will sleep. Despite their size, many Staffies suffer from the delusion that they're lapdogs, happily curling up on their owner's knee as if they were no bigger and heavier than a Chihuahua. Yet pick up a ball, or a tugging rope, or, if you're really serious, their lead, and they'll be instantly alert and ready to play once more.
They also have a strange fascination with ears. Every one I've ever met has wanted to wash my ears out, an action their owners claim is normal for them. A Staffie laying down can be a funny sight, with their legs stretched fully out behind them.
Like all bull terriers, the desire to please their owners was bred into them; this was originally expressed in the bull and bear baiting rings, where they would tackle animals much larger than themselves, for a bit of praise and a reward from their masters. These origins have, however, created an animal with strong, powerful jaws, and a tendency to not let go of what they're gripping onto, for fear of reprisal by their foe, traits exacerbated by the dog and rat baiting that followed after bull and bear baiting fell out of fashion. These traits can make them dangerous.
There are frequently reports in the media of "devil dog" staffies attacking children and other animals, killing or maiming them. Following such incidents, such as one local to my area in which a cat was killed, it is always the dog that gets the blame. Never the owner, never the other animal involved, never the child that may have been tormenting the dog (and as an adult who used to be that tormenting child, I can understand why a dog might have had enough one day). It is always and forever 100% the dog's fault, in both how the media reports it and in how many viewers and readers understand it.
There is, of course, bias on the part of the media. Bites by larger dogs, especially the "devil breed" of the day (before Staffies it was Rottweilers, and before them German Shepherds), are always heavily reported on, while ones by smaller breeds, like terriers, or supposedly-friendlier breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, get maybe a short paragraph wedged to the side of a main story in a local newspaper, if the bite was particularly bad.
In every dog shelter and rescue organisation I've ever visited, the majority of the dogs in the kennels have been Staffies and Staffie-crosses. They far outnumber the other breeds present in many cases, and very rarely will potential new owners take even a second look at them, let alone ask to see them out of their cage, or enquire about taking one home. All they'll see is a frantic, high-energy dog, trapped in a cage that hundreds of dogs have used before it, surrounded by other animals that it can smell and hear but never see. Would you be at your best in such a situation? I wouldn't.
Yes, some Staffies are bred for viciousness and aggression by unscrupulous breeders. And others are trained that way, by owners taking advantage of the breed's desire to please its human. Yet more become aggressive through fear and mistreatment at the hands of people who should never be allowed near any animal. It is these sorts of human that need to be got rid of, to allow the breed's reputation to be changed over time.
What we need is responsible breeders, who produce pups from friendly, docile dogs that have no record of aggression. We need owners that are going to treat their animals, of any species and breed, with the care they deserve, to mirror the unconditional love and devotion that animals have for us. And we need people who are going to spay and neuter any pet that isn't a stud or breeding bitch, to cut down on the number of un-pedigreed back-garden breeders and the accidental "she got loose in heat" mistakes that normally result in a dog being abandoned to avoid paying the vet fees associated with a pregnant dog.