Friday 6 December 2019

Country Matters: Reverend Russells, John and Jack

A Parson Jack Russell terrier, not to be confused with a more typical Jack Russell terrier
A Parson Jack Russell terrier, not to be confused with a more typical Jack Russell terrier

Joe Kennedy

Down a rural lane, which once had been a proper road, I used to regularly take a Jack Russell terrier for a morning's ramble. He was a small black-and-white fellow and his lively spurts of curiosity usually provided some amusement and drama.

Like all dogs, he enjoyed the morning and his happy, bewhiskered little face used to look up for approval as he trotted along in anticipation of exciting adventures ahead.

I remembered Jack last Sunday, when this paper's motoring editor, Campbell Spray, told readers he had acquired a Jack Russell in place of his beloved Labrador-cross Sam, who had recently died.

My Jack's outings were propelled by the hundred scents of other animals, birds, wild growths and dewy grass. He would slip into a ditch and disappear for many minutes to emerge through thick brambles further ahead, or appear in an adjacent field.

The girl was bitten by a Jack Russell as a child. Stock image.
The girl was bitten by a Jack Russell as a child. Stock image.

There was no point in urging him to heel; this was his time of freedom. A new vista unfolded with every yard travelled on what had been a public road and had once carried people, ponies, traps and carts towards the sea.

At times there might be rabbits hiding in the undergrowth or even in the centre of the lane, oblivious to our approach. If he scented one in a ditch he would burrow in and would emit a curious whine from the depths, as if trying to terrorise the poor animal into submission. The rabbits usually bolted but an adolescent might not be sharp enough and that would make a dog's breakfast - fur and all!

Jack Russells have complications of breeding recognition. There are some doggie folk who look down their noses, saying Jacks are just a type, not a proper breed. Then there are two distinct Russell clubs in England supporting two physically different types.

The Kennel Club has registered the Parson Jack Russell Terrier as a show breed. These are the little fellows with Chippendale legs and sterns like oil tankers.

But some hunting dog followers relegate them to pet status and support a larger animal with long legs, good shoulders and narrow chests which can be spanned by a man's hands. They have undocked tails and can run all day with foxhounds.

About 40 years back these folk founded the Reverend John Russell Terrier Club to perpetuate the breed which they claim descended from Rev Russell's famous bitch, Trump, in the 19th Century.

Arguments between the two factions continue. Many dog lovers couldn't care less about such elitism - they just love their animals for their own sake.

Long ago, my old Jack went to the great rabbiting lane in the sky having picked up poison - illegally laid, I might add. This broke the heart of the lady of the house and, although a couple of springer spaniels were kept for external duties, no small terrier was ever again part of the household furniture.

I wish Campbell's new pal Ziggy a long life with many interesting countryside adventures for both of them.

Sunday Independent

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