You hear the justifications all the time:
“Yeah, but when he is good to me, it’s great.”
“Yeah, but sometimes he’s actually really kind and sweet.”
“Yeah, but he knows just what to do when I’m feeling down.”
“Yeah, but he has this way of knowing exactly when to give me space and when to smother me with affection.”
“Yeah, but look how handsome he is... and he has such a cute butt!"
The stories preceding these justifications are just as predictable and consistent:
“He just took off. In the blink of an eye, he was just gone. I didn’t even know what he was chasing. When he did finally come back, hours later, he was covered with blood.”
“I turned away for five seconds and next thing I know, he’s swallowed a rabbit whole. For a minute, you could see the feet sticking out of his mouth, but then he got those down too.”
“I didn’t hear from him at all for two whole days. He went down a groundhog hole, killed the groundhog and was so bloated he couldn’t come back out until the groundhog was digested.”
“In the time it took me to walk in the house, carry the groceries to the kitchen counter and set them down, he had darted out the door, made a bee-line for the barn and killed five barn cats.”
~ ~ ~
Having a Jack Russell Terrier in your life is not like having a “regular” dog.
I've always had “regular” dogs -- big dogs, river dogs, DOG-dogs. I was raised from birth by a lanky black lab named Pickle. I love big dogs’ simple, sweet galoutishness, their love of rivers and frisbees, their blocky heads, the fact that they'll happily serve as your pillow when you really need one.
My last pair, siblings Bonanza Jellybean (BJ) and Jezebel (Bella), were 90 and 70 pounds, respectively.
There's a saying among hunters: "Don't never have a dawg bigger'n you kin carry." They don't get injured in the back country very often, but it happens. And when it does, and they're bigger'n you kin carry, and they can't walk out, then what? Having had that experience once or twice with BJ and Bella, I decided that my next dog/s needed to be smaller. I decided my next dog would be a Jack Russell. After all, a JRT is really just a big dog in a small dog's body. A JRT has all the athleticism and vigor of a bigger dog, but is more conveniently sized, and has none of the yappy-granny-dog-ness of many small breeds. A JRT is small enough for me to lift and carry when necessary.
A JRT is agile and fast enough to be an ideal mountain biking companion.
And, a bonus: a JRT's poop is small. (Sorry, no photo.)
Zeek crossed my path when he was about two years old. The Smiths, his family then, were giving up on him, relinquishing him to Animal Control if I didn’t take him.
Adorable as he was, he came with a handful of the usual JRT caveats, and some peculiar to him. He could jump a six foot fence. Of course he could. He did so regularly at his previous home – and he was also getting the other dog out of the yard somehow – so that the Smiths were bailing both dogs out of Animal Control once a week at $100 a pop. He wasn’t yet housebroken at age two. He had bitten the wife on the neck. He was digging up and destroying all her potted plants. He occasionally attacked their other dog. He had been beaten harshly by the man that the Smiths rescued him from. That guy had found him running loose when he was around a year old, so he had escaped from at least one owner prior to that, making me, when I did adopt him, at least his fourth person in a mere two years of life. Someone needed to give this little dog a secure home, be good to him, love him, keep him and give him a chance. Who better?
Once I got him home, I crate trained him and had him house broken within a week. I got a kennel and put a roof on it. He never gets out of it. I did kind, loving alpha exercises with him, gently putting him on his back and letting him know with strokes and voice, while he was in that beta position, that he was safe with me as his alpha. I did this until he quit struggling against my doing it. I took him running or mountain biking every day to “take the edge off” and keep him stimulated. It worked. He is a great little guy who just needs a lot of exercise, a firm but gentle hand, consistency… and because of his breeding, his hardwiring, he needs to be allowed to hunt.
Now, 2 ½ years later, I completely and totally love my little Zeek… and I’m still learning what it means to have a JRT in my life, still learning how to handle him, and still making mistakes. As a rule, we let him go to groundwhen we’re in a place, such as a frequently populated camping area with an over-abundance of rodents, where it doesn’t amount to harassing wildlife that is endangered or in any way struggling to make a living. Usually his hunting is fairly uneventful, even unproductive. But he still has fun digging and searching.
This last camping adventure, however, concluded with Zeek catching and killing a large gopher. We let him eat it. The whole thing. We reasoned that in the wild that’s what he would do: gorge himself when he made a kill, then not eat for a couple of days. That’s what dogs are built for; their systems can handle it, right?
He ate the gopher on Friday evening. Saturday he was acting just a little bit “not quite right.” We had about a four hour drive home Saturday evening. By the time we got home around 9pm, he looked awful. He was listless and dull-eyed, and when I lifted him out of the truck, he was burning up. We weren’t entirely sure the problem was the gopher. He had also picked up a tick on the creek-hike portion of our vacation. Maybe he had some kind of tick fever? He had also cornered a marmot which bit him on the muzzle. Maybe he got some kind of sickness from the marmot?
I immersed him in cold water to lower his body temperature. He wouldn’t drink. I syringed water into his mouth. I started him on antibiotics (which I keep in my dog first aid kit precisely for this kind of thing) and by Sunday morning he was already acting and looking a little better, but still not drinking, eating or pooping. We continued the antibiotics and kept syringing water into him throughout the day. When I took him to the vet first thing Monday morning he was doing a little better but still hadn’t pooped. The problem was definitely in his gut, and it was compounded by dehydration.
I shared my wild dog reasoning with my vet. “But if he were a wild dog…?” “If he were a wild dog, he would’ve died,” she said. “He’s not a wild dog; he’s your pet.” Properly chastised, I was. And poor Zeek, because of my bad decision, had to stay at the vet’s for two days on IV fluids and get poked, prodded, x-rayed, blood tested, and otherwise generally tortured in his best interest. Not until late Tuesday morning did I get the phone call with the good news: “He pooped!” He pooped what the vet said could only be described as a bird’s nest. Sticks, leaves, grass, rocks. I’m not sure where the gopher bones and fur went, but… either way, I let him eat a bunch of stuff I shouldn’t have. It got all jammed up in his system, started irritating the walls of his stomach and developed into colitis. The impact on me is financial and emotional (guilt, bad mom woes); the impact on Zeek is much worse: pain, infection, hospital time, IVs, drugs, a week of a bland diet and restricted exercise.
Calling him off the hunt sooner is the obvious solution to finding the fine line between letting him be a Jack Russell and not letting him injure himself in the process of being a little furry maniac. Zeek is a handful. He is a little ball of fire. He is also a delight -- brave, athletic, smart, agile, focused, fun.
He has the typical JRT prey drive and earth-dog hardwiring. And when he’s good, he’s great. He really is a sweet little guy. He knows just what to do when I’m feeling down; he knows exactly when to give me space and when to smother me with affection. You can’t deny that he’s incredibly handsome... and he really does have the cutest butt.
More hunting exploits:
The Javelina Incident