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Book Review
The Boston Terrier: An American Original
by Beverly & Michael Staley

Review by: Kate Connick, November 2003

In general, I don't care much for the average "breed book" that focuses on a single, AKC-recognized dog breed in only the most superficial and dog-show oriented manner. Beverly & Michael Staley's The Boston Terrier: An American Original is somewhat representative of how books of this nature fail to do a breed justice. I adore Boston Terriers, but the book is only mediocre.

First, on a minor note, I found it awkward that the book's title references the breed as "An American Original," but the bright light in charge of graphic design chose to make the cover purple, white, and blue. Wouldn't red, white and blue have been a more logical choice?

As for the book itself, the content doesn't really support the title. "Showing & Breeding Boston Terriers" would be a more apt description of what's inside the book. In a nutshell, if showing and breeding Boston Terriers isn't your thing, the book might not be either.

My greatest disappointment is the history chapter - the first of 15 brief chapters and the one that should set the stage for what's to follow. What should be a riveting chapter that traces the breed from its bloodsport ancestors (yes, Boston Terriers sprang from the same ancestral well as pit bulls) to its role as bouncy family companion is painfully superficial and brief.

The authors tell us that Boston Terriers, originally termed Round Heads, began with bulldog and terrier interbreeding in Boston in 1865. By 1891, the AKC recognized the breed. Unfortunately, the authors never do tell us the why of it all. Without explaining a reason for the breed's development, the breed and its standard are without context. History is typically the best part of a book like this, and the authors drop the ball by neglecting to explore it in depth.

It's all fine and good to say that breeders seek to produce Boston Terriers that are not too big, not too refined, not too bulldoggy, and not too terrierlike. But none of it matters unless we know why. Without a context in which to understand why the breed was developed, nothing else has relevance. To understand that a breed's niche is (or historically, was) to herd sheep, or kill rats, or meet the founder's aesthetic goals, or just to be cuddly and cute is to understand what one is striving for when one attempts to create the perfect example of that breed.

This becomes especially apparent when the authors discuss the current and "perhaps the earliest" standards for the breed. Neither standard is identified by date, which is a peculiar omission. Nonetheless, some dramatic changes from one to the other are present. Originally, rose ears were permitted, as was solid white coloration. Neither is allowed now. Not to sound like a broken record, but why? I'm much more interested in the practical and political reasons behind the changes in the standard than in the standard, per se. The authors state that "only time will indicate the progress of the breed," without giving the reader any idea of what the breed might want to progress towards.

The authors fail not only to discuss the breed in terms of why it exists at all but in terms of what traits its ancestors and their purposes may have brought to bear on this breed. It would not be surprising, for example, to find dog-aggressive, stubborn, or reckless Boston Terriers if one understands the qualities for which their ancestors (those bull and terrier dogs) had been selected. Yet the authors shortchange the reader as well as the breed by blandly presenting Boston Terriers as unidimensional intelligent, friendly and perky, "an extremely easy dog to live with, wanting only to please."

Part of paying tribute to a breed is attempting to capture its complexity, and that involves meaningfully discussing its less desirable qualities along with the more sought after traits. With the exception of highlighting the breed's susceptibility to suffer from extremes of temperature and the need to deliver puppies via Caesarian section, much of what the authors say about these dogs could apply to any breed.

The book contains many banal, black and white conformation photos, as well as a great emphasis on showing and breeding. The photographic illustrations of correct breed type are very nicely done, but there is little in this book to appeal to a regular pet owner who loves their regular pet Boston Terrier.

At times, the content seems contradictory. For example, we are told in the obedience chapter that "the activity should be fun for your dog," but this is accompanied by a photo showing a Boston Terrier retrieving on a pinch collar with the caption, "the dog must be taught to take an object on command every time. A dumbbell is not a toy, and this is not a game." That hardly sounds like fun.

Mostly, the book is very sterile. Yes, the authors repeatedly say that Bostons are intelligent, and I assume that they love their own dogs. But the tone comes across as somewhat clinical. This book simply isn't written for the pet owner to celebrate the breed. It is written for the aspiring breeder who wants to make more Bostons.

The authors keep their dogs in kennel runs in their basement, giving them alternate turns at playing house dog. When done making puppies, "We also have a responsibility to the brood bitches after we have bred them. We need to find a good pet home for them where they will be loved and cared for as part of the family." I want to read the book written for that audience.

Bostons are fun little firecrackers, and they deserve a book that captures that spark. If you want to show and breed Bostons, you may find this book worth reading - especially the chapters that discuss the standard and influential bloodlines. If you just enjoy the breed or your own pet Boston and want to study its history and celebrate its spirit, this book may leave you disappointed.

Note: This book is out of print. You'll have to buy it used or find it at your local library.

The Boston Terrier: An American Original, by Beverly & Michael Staley.
Published by Howell Book House, 1995. ISBN: 0876050569

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