August 07, 2007

The Newest Member of the Salmon Family

Ten years ago I was introduced to the Jack Russel Terrier breed at a friends Mat-Su Valley (Alaska) cabin and I was immediately bowled over by their brains, brawn, and brashness. This sturdy little dog would dash fearlessly back and forth in front of the snow machine until its owner would stop so he could hop on the gas tank and go for a ride.

The night the dog stayed at my place while his owner and my girlfriend went out on the town, he waited patiently at the bottom of the stairs by the front door for her return. As I passed the stairway I told him I was going to bed. He tilted his head as dogs often do whenever they are processing a word like ride or walk and dashed up the stairs and into the bedroom of a house he had never been to before. A few hours later, a minute before I heard the car pulling into the driveway, he bounded from the bed to meet his returning master at the door.

Later that year I met another Jack on a fishing boat in Cordova. This little guy had the run of the boat, and the docks evidently, and when he would come out of the cabin, the skipper would yell at him to close the door. He would rear up on his hind legs and hit the door with his front paws. He would rarely close the door completely on the first hit and in what appeared to be a game between the two, the skipper would yell "close the damn door" and the little Jack would turn around and hit the door with all his might until the job was done.

I was hooked and I soon found my Jack at a breeder in Kenai. "Yukon Jack" who the vet thought had "too big a name for such a little dog" was everything you would expect in a Jack Russell.

While going through obedience class it was obvious he had the heart of a big dog and to prove it he had to show the Labs or Shepherds in his class who was boss. It became a battle of wills between us and after finishing his intermediate class I asked the trainer what we should do next. She sympathetically asked why I wanted to continue to do this to myself. When I persisted she recommended that I try a class with a gal that trained Rottweilers.

After struggling and sweating through the first class, which Yukon found to be a target rich environment, the trainer asked if I would mind staying after class for a few minutes of private instruction. She sat her musclebound Rotty in the middle of the room and walked Yukon slowly towards a dog that could easily devour him in a single gulp. At the instant that Yukon bolted from the heel position she corrected him with a tug on the choke collar that for the first several times flipped the little guy head over heels. When it was my turn I was sure his little head would pop off his neck like a grape from the vine, but by the end of the class he was heeling in perfect form. Eventually we would develop an understanding. He would let me be the boss, when the mood suited him. We spent many great times together and Yukon eventually went on to learn to bring in the morning paper. After a time I was actually able to read it when it made it into the house.

Sadly though, Yukon was never able to come to terms with the arrival of our daughter. In spite of the suggestions about introducing a Jack to a baby, Yukon was obsessed with the squealing wiggling tyke that to him was just a little varmint that he and his kind are bred to do battle with. By the time she started gaining her own mobility it was obvious that one of them had go. That was about three years ago and Priscilla, our lab chow mix has been our only canine companion until this past week end.

The woman that lets me live with her has been pining of late for a puppy or a baby and the later is not bloody likely. So last week-end we scoured the countryside for a new Jack Russel.

Finding that special pup would not be easy. It had to be unique, a term I can't explain but I know it when I see it, and it had to possess some of the same qualities that I admired in Yukon. Some breeders we visited were legitimate dog lovers and others merely trying to make a buck. But none were as lowly as the farm we visited just outside of Rowley, Iowa where we eventually found our pup. Living in flea infested squalor, we would have taken all four of the pups huddled in the big wooden crate if we had let our emotions get out of hand. Instead we chose a unique little pup with what appears to be the blue merle markings of an Australian Shepherd and piercing blue eyes that look like agates.

It was shortly after arriving home and getting the poor thing a flea bath and a dose of worm medicine that my wife picked up on the fact that the little pup is deaf. I knew that some purebreds, Jacks included, have a propensity for genetic deafness but standing in that dank little shed the clues to the affliction, the white coat, blue eyes, and white albino like nose, never crossed my mind. My first reaction was to take her back to the farm but the wife wasn't about to the let the old guy wring its neck. We would keep her. On Monday the vet gave her shots and a clean bill of health and wished us luck in our endeavor to raise a deaf pup. After investigating the situation we have discovered that this is not unheard of and there are techniques for handling her problem.

I'm sure there will be challenges ahead with Pepper Jack, but it can be no worse than those I had with my little pal Yukon.

Yukon and Silla. Waiting to make the first move.

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