One of the most rambunctious terriers, the Jack Russell Terrier is one of the most intelligent canines in existence. Like all terriers ("earth doggies"), the Jack Russell was bred for hunting, specifically from the original fox terrier breed, by Reverend John Russell in the mid- to late-1800s in Devonshire, England.

Everything about the dog was designed with one purpose in mind: fox hunting. Size, coloration, temper, flexibility, digging ability, intelligence--all these factors combined contribute to the dog's tenacity and independence. In fact Jack Russell Terriers retain most of the physical characteristics of the original turn of the century fox terrier breed; most of the characteristics of that breed have changed enormously to the point where the modern fox terrier has less in common with its ancestors than does the Jack Russell. Jack Russell devotees take particular pride in the breed's characteristics, and they are wildly popular in England, with popularity on the increase in the United States. Probably the most well known Jack Russell is "Eddie", the dog owned by Frasier Crane on the TV show "Frasier".

Like all terriers, the Jack Russell isn't well suited to city living, or confined quarters. They love to dig, and must be trained not to do so when very young. They are remarkably gentle with children. However, they do not tolerate rough treatment, so it's advisable that any children be past the toddler stage before getting one of these dogs. They also are harder to train to tolerate other household pets--it is not advisable to have more than 2 Jack Russells in any one home, as they are highly aggressive towards other dogs, especially other terriers. They also will consider any rodents in the house, your guinea pigs and rabbits included, as fair game.

Despite all these caveats, Jack Russells make excellent family pets, being extremely devoted to their masters. They just need extra attention and training, but the investment will reward the proud owners with a unique, loyal, and keenly intelligent pet.

Jack Russell Terriers, ideally, are no taller than 12 to 14 inches (measured at the withers), and weigh between 13 and 17 pounds. Their short, coarse fur is predominately white, with tan, brown, or black mottled spots. As with most terriers, they actually have two coats of fur, with the undercoat being shorter and denser than most other terriers. They are generally healthy dogs, with an average lifespan of approximately 12 years. They can be prone to cataracts and glaucoma in old age.

Information for this writeup adapted from information found at The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America, www.terrier.com


One of the reasons I walk my dog each day is to try and find some serenity in nature. Getting a good workout and filling the old lungs with all the air they can hold at a rapid rate is good for you. At the same time, I find it helpful to maintain some PMA and not let negative thoughts spoil what should be a time of relaxation and active meditation. There has been more than once that I've let some negative experience on a particular day infiltrate my head and stay with me the entire half hour during which I should be eliminating stress; not adding to it. I work really hard to avoid that scenario when I can. I try to be like my dog who doesn't give one red rat's ass about anything but chasing air and sniffing the ground.

A new roadblock to my serenity cropped up in the neighborhood several weeks ago. It was in the form of a Jack Russell Terrier tied to a tree in the front yard of some less-than-upstanding neighbors we have. You and your neighbors who care can do your best to try and maintain a decent neighborhood by charging POA dues and enforcing bylaws and generally looking out for each other. But when one household just flatly refuses to abide by any codes of conduct (be they written on paper or just understood from generations of trying to find a way to co-exist with the other hoomans) you find that there is actually very little you can do. After all, you can't kill them and you really cannot just evict them, even though that would be the preferred solution from most folks involved.

Anyway, I try to stay out of folks' business until they engage in a full-force assault on my peace of mind. This poor little dog tied to a tree finally pushed me over the edge.

First, a little background on this highly dysfunctional family. I hear from folks who've lived here longer than I have that this used to be a normal family; mom and dad and the two kids, a boy and a girl. Then, as with many families in America nowadays, something happened. One day dad was gone. A new girlfriend? Mommy get too fat for him? Money arguments? Who knows. But the net result was a mom left at home with two kids and no daddy. Things almost immediately went South. The boy turned into one of those aimless teenagers who dropped out of school and was getting up in the middle of the afternoon only to begin to figure out how to cause havoc each day. One night, at around age 17, he stabbed his mom. She recovered and he continued to live there (for some reason I will never understand) until this year. I have no idea where he is now. My guess would be prison.

The daughter was a really sweet girl, so I hear, when she was young. But the situation around her must have finally convinced her that she didn't deserve normalcy. She morphed into a fiery little slut who was coming home very late in her car with the most godawful rap music blaring out of open car windows, waking the neighbors with badly pronounced cursing and boring bass beats.

During the daylight hours, it almost appears as if no one lives in the house. The yard doesn't get cut. The house is falling into disrepair. And then one day there is this little Jack Russell Terrier tied to a tree.

Actually, it turns out to be a mix between a Jack Russell and a Chihuahua which they got from the Humane Society. So she's a bit smaller than a Jack Russell, but she looks just like one. I'd stop and pet the dog when I went by, and I found that she had one of the sweetest dispositions I'd ever seen in an animal. She was docile yet energetic. She'd jump three feet in the air from a stationary position. Her little skinny legs didn't even seem to coil prior to the bounce. She was the tiny dancer; the little ballerina dog. And sometimes she would have that damn rope coiled so tightly around that damn tree that she couldn't move six inches, let alone get to her food or water. Of course, even if she could have gotten to her food or water, there wouldn't have been anything in the bowls.

The first time I saw her coiled up like this, I called the Animal Control folks. They came out and told the deserted mom and/or lost daughter that it was illegal to keep a dog tied to a tree; that it must be on a runner cable or trolley system. As with other complaints lodged about this family's behavior, nothing changed. The really sad thing is that they have a fenced in back yard, but it is in disrepair. It might have taken a couple of hundred bucks to fix the fence so that the dog would have a back yard in which to run around. I'm sure the explosive sound system in the daughter's car was much more expensive and much more important to their quality of life.

Then I began to notice that there never was any water in the dog's bowl when I would go by each afternoon. Of course, I'd take the time to fill up a bowl of water from their outside faucet. But it's been a very hot fall here, and this bothered me to such an extent that not only was it ruining my walks, but it was waking me up in the middle of the night. You see, there were many days when the dog was left tied up out there all day and night. I would lie in bed and wonder if the little dog had any water. Then I would start to wonder what was going to happen in a couple of months when it was freezing outside. Were they going to leave this dog out all winter, tied to that tree? It wouldn't survive. It didn't have a thick coat like my dog who was bred for harsh winters.

On a couple of occasions, I'd be a few beers into a late evening and I'd tell my wife, "I am going to go down there and take that damn dog away from them."

"You can't do that without telling them. I'm not going to be a part of that." My wife is the kind of person who makes me give money back to even the rudest of cashiers when they mistakenly give me too much change. She's the sort of person who reminds me that I'm not being charitable when I bitch about the behavior of the humans who annoy me daily. She's not much for sitting around discussing philosophy, but she's got a real knack for creating it. It was always highly unlikely to imagine her as a co-conspirator in dog theft, even though she, too, was visibly upset by the treatment visited on this helpless creature. Not that I didn't try to convince her.

"If I go down there and 'talk to them' about this, and they tell me to 'fuck off,' as I suspect they will, then when I DO steal the dog they will know it's me. Don't you see I'm in a lose/lose situation here?"

"If you're going to get all upset about the plight of poor dogs, why don't you adopt one of those sad animals that got left behind in New Orleans?" she said.

"I am not trying to save all the mistreated dogs in the world. I don't really care about dogs en masse. I don't have time for that. I am only trying to save that one little dog. Just that one. That's all I care about."

"Well, you go talk to them first. I'm not going to have you stealing that dog. No matter how pure your motives."

So last Sunday I was taking my usual walk. Again, the little dog was sitting there in that dusty, filthy front yard, tied to the big oak tree which must have felt some sort of concern itself about the whole situation. Trees are born knowing they'll never move except in the slow motion growth and phototropism of their appendages. But surely somewhere inside they, too, realize that a little dog needs to run free. Urged on by the oak tree, I was driven to ring the doorbell on that seemingly deserted house. I waited a long time and had assumed no one would answer. I was making plans for my late night abduction and trying to formulate an explanation that would work on my sainted wife. As I was walking away, I heard the door open.

There stood the woman who I blamed for all of this. I'd never really seen her before. She was an overweight but not entirely unattractive forty-year old with a baby girl in her arms. (Where did this baby come from? Had her daughter had an illegitimate child that I didn't even notice? Had she herself had a baby out of wedlock to spite the daddy who no longer lived there?)

It was all I could do not to start yelling at her, and if she hadn't had the baby in her arms, I think I might have done just that. I tried to calm down. You know how it is when you're trying to halt your hyperventilation so that you can quell your anger before speaking? I said, "You know, almost every day when I come by here, this dog doesn't have any water in its bowl. Do you think that's acceptable?"

She wasn't defensive. She wasn't angry. But she wasn't very concerned, either. She said, "We give it water all the time."

I said, "I just feel so sorry for this little dog. Do you want to get rid of it?"

She visibly recoiled. I think she thought I meant I was prepared to kill it right there in front of her and the baby, just to put it out of its misery. When I realized this was what was going on in her mind, I told a huge lie. "I know someone who will be happy to take this dog if you don't think you can take care of it." The minute the words came out of my mouth, I knew I was likely dooming myself to taking this dog and keeping it. Neither my wife nor I really wanted that. One dog and one cat is plenty. Besides, we don't have a fenced in yard, and I've already pissed off more than one neighbor by letting my dog run free every so often. Which is, I suppose you can guess, totally against every rule in the property owners' bylaws.

The lady said what I already suspected, "It's my daughter's dog. I'll have to talk to her."

So I got her phone number and told her I'd call her later. Which I did, that evening. She said she'd talked to her daughter who was "staying with a friend" and that she thought it might be OK, that they didn't really have time to take care of the dog properly. "No kidding," I said to myself.

Monday night, I got a call from the daughter. "Are you the man who wants my dog?" I was fully prepared for an earful of how this was none of my business and who did I think I was. Instead, she said, "You can come get her."

Not only did they give me the dog, but they gave me a nice cage (they called it a kennel), two bags of food, a couple of dog bowls, plus a bag of treats. The mom was visibly relieved to see the dog go, and the slutty little daughter (with her tanning saloned and double-pierced belly button staring me right in the eye while I was picking up all the freebies) did her best imitation of sadness and loss. I've seen acting out of kids before. It wasn't playing with me. I did manage to keep all of my rage about the dog's past treatment bottled up inside. I didn't want to queer the deal at this point. Then the mom hit me with the bombshell. The reason she said the dog was always outside on the rope is because she refused house training. I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, realizing that this was going to make finding a new home for this dog much, much more difficult. But there was no turning back now.

They told me her name was Dixie and that she was two years old. She can still be two years old, but I sincerely doubt she can still be Dixie. The name doesn't suit her at all.

The daughter wanted to know who was going to have her dog. I made up an address and wrote it down on a piece of paper. I made up a family to go with the address. I knew she'd never look at that piece of paper again. Her last words to me as I was putting everything in the car were, "Do they want a cat, too?" The disgust on her mom's face at that remark was obvious. I drove off hoping I'd never see either of them again. But mostly I was wondering about the little toddler they had. If they treated a dog like this, what sort of chance did that little girl have? It made me shudder, but I am fairly confident my wife is not going to entertain the idea of baby-stealing.

I brought the tiny dancer home, gave her a bath (fleas were hopping off of her like illegal immigrants fleeing the border patrol), cut her nails (they were so long that they were curling under), and put Advantage on her neck to get rid of the fleas for good. Then I started worrying about what to do with her.

At that point, my next door neighbors drove up. They are a young couple who have two indoor cats and a fenced in back yard. I asked them if they would mind me keeping the dog in their back yard until I could find a home for it. They agreed, and that's where the little ballerina is right now. I'm working on finding it a home, but I think there is a slight chance that the young couple is falling in love with the little dog. That would be the best outcome ever. I wish you could see how happy she is running free in that big, big yard.



Update as of 10/26/2005:

After my neighbors decided they liked but not loved the little mutt, I took her down to the animal rescue folks who set up shop at the local PetCo every Saturday and Sunday. They were glad to show her and gave me all their paperwork and instructions on being a "foster rescue home" for a dog such as this. It just means that I didn't toss them the dog and say, "Here." I offered to keep her until someone adopted her and bring her down so that they could show her on Saturday and Sunday afternoons at this pet store. The lady with the rescue operation said, "She'll go quick. Small dogs are what they want." I guess that's why most of the dogs they had there for show were large ones.

I had also put an ad in the local paper saying "Free dog to good home" with all the details about her. The rescue lady told me that was a very bad idea. She said that vicious bastards (my words, not hers) would scope out ads such as that in order to get unwanted pet dogs in order to sell them to research labs for $20 to $40 a pop. She said that they prefer pets to strays because they are usually healthy and bring a better price. She said that sometimes they even bring a woman or child with them to convince you they are looking for a family pet. Apparently they busted some evil bastard for doing this not so long ago. He is their poster child for abuse on their website, http://www.dogsonly.org. They have one for catsonly.com, too, I believe. Anyway, she said that it's better to say you're charging at least $50 to scare those kinds of folks away. I'm telling you this for your own personal storehouse of useless information, in case you ever find yourself in a situation like mine vis a vis this little dog.

So things were going along according to plan. No one on Saturday or Sunday was suitable for the adoption. (They had me fill out a form which says either you want to be contacted before a decision is made or you trust them to make a decision about a suitable home. I'd said that she needed a fenced yard to run around in as well a warm place to stay when winter came. Other than that, I was leaving it up to them.) The lady gave me a microchip to be implanted as well as instructions for getting the dog a heartworm check. They pay the vet for this and then get reimbursed when the adoption takes place.

I was going to pull the ad in light of this information, but it was too late. I got several calls from mostly men wanting to come look at the dog. I asked a lot of questions and many of them wound up telling me they wanted to breed her. I guess they thought that she was full blooded and had her female stuff going on. When I disenchanted them about these two items, they lost interest. Then I got a call from an old lady named Laverne. She told me about her and her husband losing a little dog recently (from heartworms, something they didn't really know about until they had to put the little dog down). She said she had a fenced in yard and an enclosed back porch where she could sleep and stay warm. I told her to come look at her and she said, "I really can't drive that far." She lived 10 miles away. I said, "Don't worry. I'll bring her over to you."

And I did. And that's where she lives now. It's a huge back yard with a good fence, and these old folks are as sweet as you could imagine old folks could be. Ollie is 82 and Laverne is 79. Ollie had that old, old man twinkle in his eye. God bless the men who live to be that old and keep that twinkle. Who can imagine how many dogs these two have had over their long and lovely lives together? This may be their last one.

As the now content little dog (who used to spend every hour tied to a tree) bounced from one lap to another as we sat there in their living room, I answered all the questions as best I could. "When were her shots given? Has she been spayed?" Etc.

And then the big question came. "Is she housebroken?" Laverne and Ollie and I all looked over at the object of discussion at the same time. She was hunched up with about three good sized turds lying on their white shag carpet.

Not unlike the fumes still hovering strong above that hat trick, I said, "Well, that one is still up in the air."

Laverne said, "Oh, don't worry about it. We'll train her not to do that if we can. If we can't, who cares? She's so cute."

As the cliché goes, my work here is done.

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