I’ve been thinking about getting another dog. No, that’s not right. When parents adopt a child, they don’t say, “I’m gonna get a child.” So, it’s more like, “I’m thinking of adopting a dog.” But, as dog parents everywhere know, you don’t adopt a dog. They adopt you. I
think of Alexandria, especially Old Town, as a dog community with people added in.
I am partial to Jack Russells. Everyone who has ever parented a dog is partial to their own
breed, even if the breed is of uncertain provenance. I know a guy who adopted an Irish Setter, which was the single dumbest creature ever to walk on four legs. When, after years of doggedness – you should pardon the pun – he taught the dog to sit, he’d have applied for a Nobel Prize for Dogs if there were such a thing.
Say what you will about Jacks. They can be eccentric, yappy, clingy, loud. But never dumb. And never dull. Jack Russells never want to miss out on anything and, by staying alert and present, rarely do.
Woody was our first Jack: small, white with tan and brown spots, a cropped tail much like Eddie on “Frasier.” To say that Woody was eccentric is like saying that Irish Setter was a member of Mensa.
She was incredibly sensitive to sounds, especially of the high-pitched variety. Shuffling cards and the sound of a tape measure were two prominent examples. But even someone kissing someone hello, a peck on the cheek, would send her into paroxysms.
She would attack the nearest chair leg and drag the piece a few feet while growling furiously. One time, my daughters and I were at a playground, while a hundred yards away a man with his family undertook to measure a swing set with a tape measure. Uh oh. Big problem.
Woody went tearing across the playground pell mell with my girls and me in pursuit. To the frightened howls of the man’s kids, Woody clamped down on the end of the tape and began shaking it ferociously while the startled dad held on for dear life as though he had hooked a Hammerhead.
It’s not as though we didn’t try to train her, but the one trainer we hired was last seen hot-footing around our living room with Woody at his heels. She flunked Obedience School. I’ve been known to practice a little magic, so I invited my 9-year-old nephew, Scott, to sit at a table with me so I could perform a card trick. Woody, as always, was in attendance. I intoned, in my best magician’s voice, “Now Scott, you simply will not believe this card trick. But first …” I looked at Woody meaningfully, “Woody, will you please move that chair out of the way.” I shuffled the cards, and, on cue, and ROB with a growl, Woody clamped on to the chair leg and dragged WHITTLE it to the side. Scott, amazed, felt around for hidden guy wires.
Winnie was our next Jack, sweet and mellow, great with kids and my boat pal. She would go out with me and sit at my feet, no matter the weather.
She was a specialist at ball retrieving with an emphasis on retrieving, as she knew to drop the ball precisely at your feet. My daughter-in-law dog Rama, a mix of greyhound and springer, was also a ball dog, which presented a dilemma for the slower Winnie.
After a few throws, Winnie understood she could not beat Rama straight-up and would need to resort to some stratagem that didn’t involve speed. On the fourth throw, I faked out Rama so Winnie could have a turn with the ball. But instead of bringing it back and dropping it at my feet, she dropped it 10 yards short. Rama, puzzled, picked up the ball and brought it to me.
All the while, Winnie had retreated to center field, positioned for the next throw. From then on, I had to fake Winnie out in order to give Rama a chance.
The tradition continues, as I have two Jack Russell grand dogs who are equally eccentric.
To this day, I have sweet dreams about the sweet Winnie. Woody? Fond memories, yes. Sweet dreams? Negative. But I’m thinking about letting a Jack Russell adopt me again.
Rob Whittle is CEO of Williams Whittle Advertising and is the author of two historical novels, “Pointer’s War” and “Pointer and the Russian.”