Chaotic Stability: Jack Russell terrier learning but still ornery
I walked into the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City that January day, two and a half years ago, on a whim.
And, after all the formalities, a few days later I walked out carrying a wiggly, stumpy-tailed, brown-and-white ball of hyper. My life with a Jack Russell terrier had begun.
I bring up my little dog Andy because lately his behavior has been on a major upswing. So much so that even my sister, parents and friends have recently praised his improved manners and obedience. It may seem ridiculous to dote over a dog's good conduct as if he brought home an A report card or donated his time to the less fortunate. However, the fact that the first phrase spoken by my now 18-month-old niece was "Andy, no!" might provide a small explanation to our reaction. The idiosyncrasies of Jack Russell Terriers along with Andy's unique story will surely explain the rest.
While my research of the breed somewhat prepared me for what was described as "insatiable energy," I wasn't quite ready for this 23-pound animal's 4-foot standing vertical. At times of excitement, I find myself repetitiously eye level with him as he bounces joyfully straight up into the air from floor to face over and over again. And excitement isn't too hard to come by - a leash sighting, when I walk in the front door, walking out of the front door, when I go anywhere near the door, walking, scratching my head, moving:
I also quickly learned that even though he's a K-9, his tastes are just as expensive and refined as any human's. A leather couch, a couple of bedspreads and at least one pair of shoes are just a few things that cost his new college grad of a mother money she didn't have, but my favorite has to be the time he found a new favorite food while we were strolling around a pond on a hot summer evening.
He stopped to inspect something in the grass and before I knew it I looked down to find him chomping happily on his discovery while two rigor mortis frog legs hung out of either side of his mouth. Horrified, I shrieked and pried the nastiness out of his mouth, gagging in the process. Apparently, frog legs aren't just a treat for people - they're also a doggie delicacy.
While his obedience skills were far below par when I adopted him, he seemed to have mastered the art of escaping. Darting out the door and running gleefully down the street as fast as a miniature gazelle used to be a weekly event for him and while I would attempt to chase him, his return usually involved a familiar phone call of, "I have your dog" from a compassionate neighbor.
He became quite popular:or unpopular, depending on how you look at it. Sometimes I wouldn't even learn of his escape until the doorbell would ring and there he would be, tucked under the arm of a neighbor panting heavily with what I swear was a smile spread across his face.
And, like a good son, he used to always remember to leave me little presents around the house when I wasn't looking.
Andy's antics have stressed me out, made me want to yank my hair out and have brought me to tears, but the thought of getting rid of him has never crossed my mind. He's a shelter dog, which most likely means he was unwanted and his background is full of neglect; maybe even abuse. The fact that I got him when he was about a year old combined with his rough history and breed characteristics made the presence of bad habits inevitable. The whole point of adopting him was to give him a better life and not just give up on him when things got a little difficult like his previous owners.
Of course, nobody said this whole parenting thing was going to be easy. With a little patience, time and the instillment of responsible pet ownership from my veterinarian father along with his guidance, Andy has reformed into a companion that now brings me much more joy than grief. His zest for life and cheerful character lift spirits wherever he goes. In fact, I'm not sure what I would do without him.
But, he's never going to be perfect because he's a dog. It's appalling to me how many people are willing to cast their pets aside because they don't magically behave the way the owners think they're supposed to. My advice? If you're not up for a challenge, don't get a dog.
While Andy's eager excitement has gone from 65 consecutive vertical jumps to maybe 10, his tastes have now gravitated more towards dog food and appropriate chew toys, he's only tempted to bolt if there's a bird, rabbit, squirrel or foreign object in sight and I'm pretty sure the housebreaking has finally stuck, he's always going to be a quirky and ornery little Jack Russell.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.