An eulogy for our big little hero Joe

Our much- loved late Jack Russell Joe was a millennium puppy, and this was an article I wrote celebrating him, his breed and the impact he had on our family.

We have a new addition to the mismatched selection of human and non-human animals that live in our house and outbuildings. His name is Joe and he is a very fine tri-coloured Jack Russell. Any privileged owner of one of these unique canines will know immediately that that is a very tame description What we have is a turbo powered Ferrari with Mensa membership and NATO standard radar detection concentrated into a deceptively small body that is utilised to the full for maximum cuddles and bed invasions. To summarise he is an extremely big little dog.

When I was younger one of my favourite television programmes was the adventures of Batman and Robin with its’ famous “Kapows” and “Whams” displayed across the screen during fight sequences. In one episode I remember the bat signal calling for Batman and Robin after a particularly devilish scene when the Joker had ruined their outfits. Always ready with an answer Batman removes two tiny pellets from his bat belt and drops them into water where they expand into two perfect costumes. How they dried so quickly, and both expanded to full size in a single beaker of water still puzzles me to this day. Joe is just like one of these pellets, innocent enough on the outsize but huge when the moment demands.

A Jack Russell’s fearlessness can sometimes slither into nastiness. Joe is just losing those razor- sharp puppy teeth that tattooed the family’s hands and mutilated a precious doll on Christmas morning. His low growls break only into snarls when he is lifted from a hot hearth to be put out last thing at night or untangled from a mound of quilt where has painstakingly cocooned himself. A certain amount of empathy with his feelings on these occasions makes us more tolerant.

As a dog loving eight-year-old I was defeated in all the approaches I made to the Jack Russell who lived at the farm up the road and remain resolutely anti-social even to her own family to the end. Our previous neighbours had a Jack Russell that consented only to sit briefly on my lap two times after we had known her for four years, and I think that was due more to my fire side seat than any true regard. This Jack Russell who could bark for Britain was the joy of her owner’s life but a night mare to any unsuspecting visitor to the house.

Such blind adoration is symptomatic of most dog lovers but maybe more so with this breed. A friend has a Jack Russell that is just such an idolized dictator feared by family and friends alike. The son-in-law still breaks out into a sweat when he recalls how he heard her deep growl next to his head while he was lying on the floor fixing his father-in-law’s car. When their niece took her one- year old daughter to the house she was told the dog would be fine. As soon as they sat down the dog entered the room and with a huge leap floored the little girl cracking her head against the coffee table. Above the screaming all that could be heard was,” ar she dunna half love kids dunna she?”

Such behaviour is linked to an utter faithfulness to their family, and an over zealous desire to guard their home. Joe must show his love by being near you, and any time you sit down it is taken as an invitation to jump on your lap or climb onto your shoulder. A cousin had a Jack Russell who would run up his body onto his shoulder, and who was part of a two-man act that saw him held to his head like a telephone. Lie down anywhere and within seconds Joe will be curled up on your chest snoring loudly like an oversized fashion accessory. This loud snoring that shakes the house is an obvious clue as to just what a big dog is hidden within that little frame.

When I was ten we had our first dog, a “Heinz 57” called Patsy who spent her puppyhood chasing us around the house trying to gnaw our feet off. Luckily you could climb onto the sofa or chairs to escape her, but this is no deterrent to a Jack Russell to whom no object is an obstacle no matter how high. Within days of his arrival he was fearlessly launching himself through the air across the chasm that separated the hearth from the sofa, and he was on the bed in a week after sheer willpower helped him claw his way like a mountaineer grasping frantically for handholds up the crocheted eiderdown. The windowsill is now his domain, which he reaches by clambering over the old sofa pushed against the kitchen wall. His presence there is indicated by the marks he leaves daily over the window as he watches for my return.

Trawling through canine literature and websites I became aware that we were just two of many who were overwhelmed with enthusiasm for these pocket- sized big dogs with their huge characters. The interest spanned across all sectors from the wild, wiry haired and very muddy characters shown off with pride on the working dogs’ websites and publications, to the formal guidelines laid down for the breed by The Kennel Club and the painstaking research into lineage by breed groups.

Terriers as a group were dogs originally bred and used for hunting vermin, and terrier comes from the Latin word “terra” meaning earth. For centuries they have represented a hardy collection of dogs selectively bred to be extremely brave and tough, and to pursue fox, badger, rat and otter (to name just a few) above and below ground. These fiery canines bred for work rather than looks gained legitimacy and a champion in the nineteenth century with the Reverend John Russell who, after hunting his way through public school and Oxford, acquired a dog called Trump described as, “-white with just a patch of dark tan over each ear and eye, while a similar dot, not larger than a penny piece, marks the root of the tail. The coat is thick and close…the legs straight as arrows… and the whole frame indicative of hardihood and endurance.”

The Reverend Russell hunted around his diocesan duties with his equally enthusiastic wife Penny and continued to refine his ideal terrier so that today we can say with authority that today’s Parson Jack Russell Terrier and modern Fox Terriers have a certain many time over grandparent called Trump. As for Joe he has a much more dubious but suitable story for his lineage.

The Reverend John Russell had a kennel man called Will Rawle whose relative Annie Harris bred and sold terriers. This Annie Harris found that if she sold her dogs as “Jack Russells” it was a lucrative “white” lie, and also gave Joe his forebears because her dogs were actually cross bred terriers without the leg length of the Parson Jack Russell(a perfect description of a modern Jack Russell).Also, at the end of the nineteenth century a secretary of the Parson Jack Russell Club Arthur Heinemann bred a shorter leg Jack Russell(Joe again) for badger digging, and added Bull Terrier to produce a hardier dog.

Perhaps what is special is the unquestioning friendship that a dog selflessly gives and our need for it is perhaps an admission of our own shortcomings. In the Dostoevsky novel “The Brothers Karamazov” a dream is recalled of a horse being whipped across the face, and when the horse does not alter the expression of trust in his sin free eyes the man is driven by the effect of this goodness to whip more ferociously to no avail as the horse’s expression remains unchanged.

Joe (Jack Russells seem to attract short names they suit the image) has entered our lives like a personal whirlwind or banned jumping jack firework with his effervescence and quick brain. Surfing the net, I find a terrier description that seems most apt:”-honourable scars permissible”.

Read about Joe’s later years



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