American Staffordshire Terrier

From Homeless to Hero – Norton’s Story

Reprinted with Permission from Golden Triangle Am Staffs

Note: This story was found during a search for information on the American Staffordshire Terrier breed. When I came across it, I thought it would be a wonderful addition to the Hero Stories that are being included in the Working Dogs Section of Canada’s Guide to Dogs. After receiving permission to reproduce it, I was left with a question mark as to what breed the story should be placed under. Norton is believed to be an American Staffordshire Terrier, but there are no papers to prove it. In the end, the story was included in both the Hero Dogs section as well as under the American Staffordshire Terrier breed pages because, papers or no papers, he certainly does his breed proud.


About five years ago my husband and I heard about this “loser” dog. Loser because he was a Pitbull/Amstaff that wouldn’t fight! We had two rescues at this time, a Rottie and an Amstaff, so we weren’t looking for another dog, but something made us call these people to find out about Norton. The owner said thanks but they’d already found a home for him.

Two days later we got a call from this person saying Norton had been returned and asking if we’d like to come and see him. We loaded our dogs into the car and told ourselves that we were just going to look but that it would be a good idea to see if there was a chance all the dogs would get along. I won’t go into the horror we saw or the condition Norton was in, but we knew immediately that we couldn’t leave this 6-month-old pup there. His scars weren’t just physical; he suffered from severe separation anxiety as well. Norton could not be left alone; he would eat his way out of any enclosure or room he was left in. He had to be with people or he panicked. We were lucky enough to be able to have my husband take him to work every day, but on the rare occasion we had to leave him alone he had to be heavily tranquilized. We tried all sorts of training and medications but nothing worked. We resigned ourselves to the fact that wherever we went, Norton came too. Then tragedy struck. Within three months we lost our Amstaff to a stroke and our Rottie to old age. We were devastated but it was worse for Norton, he lost important members of his pack! The separation anxiety got worse, he followed us everywhere, he took to sleeping in our walk-in closet as long as the door was open and he could see us in bed.

We knew we needed another dog and for the first time in my life I wanted to buy the breed I’d always loved. I found a beautiful Amstaff pup at Barberycoast Kennels in Nova Scotia. I was still reeling from the loss of my other dog so I knew how Norton must have been feeling. Maybe a pup would be good for him and make him feel he had a larger pack to depend on.

During all this our city passed a bylaw restricting Pitbulls but allowing pedigreed Amstaffs (go figure!). We would be allowed to keep Norton if he could pass a Good Citizenship test (temperament test). Norton may have his problems but bad temperament isn’t one of them, he passed with flying colours, after all, we were there so he felt safe. He was ‘grandfathered’ and the only restriction was that he had to wear a large tag saying, “restricted” on it. Oh, he also had to be neutered and microchipped but we had already done that as soon as we got him.

One night about a month after we got our new pup Haley, I got up to go to the bathroom making sure the bedroom door was shut behind me so that Haley wouldn’t wander out and have an accident on the carpet. While I was in the bathroom I was bitten by a spider. I was on medication at the time and it inhibited my body from producing any antihistamines, so I went into anaphylactic shock. My throat closed and I got very light-headed, I felt like I was being put under an anesthetic, I couldn’t make it out of the bathroom and I couldn’t make a sound.

For some unknown reason, Norton got up from his bed in the closet and went over to my sleeping husband and kept pushing him with his nose until Barrie woke up. When Barrie saw how upset Norton was and that I wasn’t there he went looking for me and found me almost unconscious. He called the paramedics and by the time they arrived I had stopped breathing. I spent 2 days in intensive care and a week at home recovering from a simple non-poisonous spider bite.

To this day I don’t know how Norton knew one of his pack was in trouble, but I do know that I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for him. We had rescued him from a bad home and he took returning the favour very seriously.

Norton was inducted into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame in 1999 for his heroic act. We received a beautiful oil portrait of Norton from Purina and Norton got a medal and a year’s supply of dog food. He had a wonderful time for the three days we were in Toronto with him. He had his own stretch limo to take him to the awards banquet and the TV studios and he was allowed everywhere we went.

The Toronto Humane Society honoured Norton a couple of months later for his heroic act, and Norton received another medal, more press coverage and a month’s supply of treats. Boy, for a restricted dog he sure is a good ambassador for his breed.

As for his breed, I don’t have a pedigree for him so who knows? All I know is that he’s my hero and I owe him my life. Everyday is a precious gift he gave me.

Time, love and Haley have done wonders for his separation anxiety, we can now leave him home with Haley for four or five hours without causing him stress, and it’s getting longer all the time.

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