Carrying the Torch

August 1, 2012  

A group of Staffordshire Terriers help the Olympic torch pass through

Recently, the rescue dogs of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home had a special role in helping the Olympic torch pass through on its way to London, improving the image of Staffies in the process. Here, StubbyDog chats with Battersea’s Debbie Chapman about this historic occasion.

Please tell us how the Staffies got to be involved in the Olympic torch ceremony.
Battersea was honored when the organizers of the Olympic Torch Relay contacted us to arrange a special flame visit to the home. Battersea was one of the very few British landmarks that were chosen for these events. Others included Stone Henge and the O2 Arena in London. We are immensely proud that the Olympic torch came to our iconic London centre and that our staff, volunteers and dogs were able to share in the once-in-a-lifetime occasion.

We knew that England footballer Michael Owen was a dog lover who owned Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and we suggested that Michael could run with one of our Staffies as he carried the torch through our center, watched by many of our canine residents. We were therefore delighted when we were told Michael could run with one of our dogs. Battersea took in 1,869 Staffordshire Bull Terriers last year, making up 37 percent of our total intake. They are by far the most frequent arrival at our gates, and Battersea is working hard to help change public opinion of the breed so that more people understand their soft, loving qualities.

What was their role?
Battersea dogs formed one of our unique doggy “Guard of Honours” for the Olympic torch moment. Over 50 of our dogs and their handlers lined up, creating a passage for Michael Owen to run through with the Olympic torch. Rory was given the even more special role of running with Michael Owen. He’s captured the hearts of everyone with his soft, friendly nature, and there was a buzz of excitement and sheer joy from the Battersea crowd in our courtyard when they realized it was Rory’s big moment! He’s a fabulous dog and we’re so impressed with him. He was incredibly calm walking past the cheering crowds, mass of cameras and photographers and of course our Guard of Honour dogs.

How many dogs took part, and where did they come from?
Over 50 dogs took part in the Guard of Honour. Some were ex-Battersea dogs that had been rehomed by Battersea employees, but the majority were dogs from Battersea’s kennels. We have on average 450 dogs in our care at any one time and 240 at our London site, which is the biggest of our three centers. We take in around 14 dogs every day.

Tell us about Michael Owen and his love of the breed.
Michael owns three Staffordshire Bull Terriers and two French Bulldogs, so he was the perfect choice to carry the flame through the animal rescue center. Michael said: “It has been a real honour to visit Battersea and carry the flame past such a fantastic doggy Guard of Honour with the backdrop of Battersea Power Station. I’m a huge fan of Staffies so was thrilled to meet Rory, and he seemed to really enjoy helping me carry the torch. The atmosphere was brilliant and the dogs behaved so well.”

How did the dogs behave?
All of the dogs behaved so well and were a real credit to Battersea.

How did the public react?
Some people came into our center to join in the celebrations and to witness this unique moment themselves. We’ve also had lots of people contacting us from all over the world to tell us how much they loved the pictures of the Olympic torch visiting Battersea. We’ve heard from people in Melbourne, Atlanta and New Zealand.

We know pit bulls are banned in the U.K., but could you tell us about how Staffies deal with that breed ban?
Staffies are not a banned breed in the U.K. but they suffer from an unwarranted bad reputation. It’s tragic that this breed has gained notoriety as a status dog and is associated with fighting and gangs. A minority of irresponsible owners have sullied the name of Staffies, and with backstreet breeding and Staffies trading hands for little or no money, we have seen a huge increase in the number of these dogs being dumped on the streets or at our doors. We know that dog lovers now give a wide berth to Staffies, cross the road with their children, or pick up their own dogs when they see a Staffie approaching. This reaction is becoming more and more common and is something we need to work hard to turn around. The more people that show the positive traits of Staffies and show off their softer side, the more chance we have of changing people’s attitudes towards a largely misunderstood breed.

You can find out more about Battersea’s campaign “Staffies. They’re softer than you think.” here.

Find out more about Rory, above, who is available for adoption.

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7 Responses to “Carrying the Torch”
  1. What a wonderful moment! Rory is gorgeous. I hope this fantastic coverage helps to change the opinions of people who are against Staffies! 

  2. AWESOME, AWESOME!!! Rory is a gorgeous boy

  3. barbaraleeanderson07090 says:

    Hip-hip-hooray for our friends across the “pond” in their super work on behalf of these wonderful dogs…..because we all know how people perceive AmStaffs to be “pits” and, therefore, dangerous dogs.  What a fantastic way to create positive press for these dogs. 

    • StubbyDog says:

      barbaraleeanderson07090 We agree Barbara, the photos of the Staffies carrying the torch were all over Facebook, and we are so happy to bring the story to all our wonderful fans.