Meet Charlie, the dog no one seems to want
I harbour a small fear of dogs and the ones I fear the most look a lot like Charlie, the staffordshire bull terrier cross that I have come to visit at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Staffies – and other bull breeds – have borne the brunt of dog phobia for decades. It isn't, to be honest, completely unwarranted. Dog-bite incidents in the UK have risen by 43% in recent years and there have been vicious attacks: last April, a staffie was Tasered and shot dead after attacking a girl in Gloucestershire, while more recently, five police officers were attacked in Newham in east London by a pit bull-type animal. But it's worth remembering that for all of the high-profile media cases, there were only two deaths as a result of dog bites in 2010.
Staffie crosses make up the bulk (37%) of Battersea's intake, but they are usually placed after an average of 63 days. Charlie, however, is a long-timer: he came in as a stray 598 days ago. So why hasn't he found a home? It isn't just because of his breed. His carer Hollie Oppe, 23, tells me he found the kennels "stressful" – he didn't enjoy life there and would become overexcited, which made potential owners walk on by. As a result, he has been in a foster home for the last six months. Because he's not living at Battersea, fewer people see him and so he is less likely to be adopted.
Oppe says that, despite what people think, staffies are "people dogs. He looks like a proper bruiser, but he's the softest thing ever." She has had to struggle with other people's perceptions of Charlie, however. "Mums with young kids cross the road. Other dog owners look down on me because they see a young blonde woman with a staffie and make assumptions. Someone once said to me: 'It's people like you and dogs like that that are killing people.'"
I take Charlie for a walk in Battersea Park in south London. At the traffic lights, a toddler in her pushchair strains to touch him. Her mother smiles and doesn't pull her daughter away. Charlie sniffs her hand and decides against interaction. Everyone we encounter on our walk is friendly, and Charlie is a joy – obedient and responsive. But I do wonder what the reaction would be if I were in my east London neighbourhood of Hackney. I've seen people do full body swerves when they see dogs that look like Charlie. In fact, I used to be one of them.
Source: The Guardian