Twelve years ago, I found a Jack Russell, late on a summer Sunday evening, quite unconcernedly chasing a paper bag along the middle of a public road, close by the car park of a popular local forest walk. Fortunately, there was little in the way of traffic. So little, in fact, that the car park was empty. Totally devoid of any potential owners. And the dog was collarless and completely anonymous.
The usual steps were taken. The apparently lost or abandoned JR was bundled in the car – much against her will – and her circumstances reported to the local bobby. Details were noted, such as they were. “Jack Russell, female, young, tan and white, daft as a brush”, and time and location of finding.
PC Local Bobby was clearly disinclined to take charge of the bundle of uncontrollable energy, and asked ever so nicely if I could take care of her meantime, until steps had been taken to trace the owners. The request was slightly loaded, with the veiled hints of “putting down”. Ever the sucker, the JR came home with me. Unsurprisingly, no more was heard from PC Local Bobby.
The following Sunday, I took the frantic chewing machine back to the forest walk, paraded her around the car park with a “Have You Lost Me?” sign prominently displayed, and put a notice on the gate, advertising her whereabouts. No takers. Following Sunday ditto.
Meanwhile, during this enforced fostering period, I began to realise the awful truth. This whirlwind canine had been abandoned by someone who could not cope. I could understand the not coping. I could not begin to understand the abandoning.
So inevitably, the JR, now christened Bisto (for no real reason, other than all previous pets had been named after foodstuffs, and the then current canine family member, a cross between a labrador and a … erm … tractor, was equally inexplicably called Do’nut), was formally adopted.
Nothing was safe. Everything chewable was chewed. Anything not chewable was attempted anyway, and abandoned bearing toothmarks. The floor was a temporary landing place. On top of the furniture was the preferred habitat. Any human daring to sit down immediately had a JR on the shoulder, à la parrot. Ears and hair were then assaulted with gusto.
Two hamsters, in close succession, having made one of their periodic bids for freedom, met untimely ends. And the kids, to this day, and themselves adults now, think they died in the night of natural causes.
I had owned and loved several dogs prior to this. And living as I have always done, in a rural, and fairly remote, location, my dogs have known a leash only when taking trips away from home. You open the door, they go out and do their thing, they come back. Simple.
I was determined that Bisto would have the same freedom. But many times did I doubt the wisdom of this, not least when, having been let out for the traditional bedtime pee, she would disappear for hours, only to return and bark at the door at three or four in the morning.
And before I am accused of irresponsibility, I have an excellent relationship with my neighbouring farmers, and no livestock were involved in these nocturnal forays!
She never ventured far. She just seemed to think night-time was the best opportunity to dig holes in the garden, or adjacent wood, looking for mice or moles. A genetic, rat-catching thing, I presume. In fact, in all of her wandering years, the only time she caused embarrassment (and it was acute) was when she ventured on to the public road one morning, and played chicken with the school bus. I heard the commotion, saw the bus inching along the road, heard the barking, and sprinted to the rescue. Yes, the dog was in the middle of the road, facing the bus, growling and snarling and defying it to pass. I apologised to the driver, went to collect her, and off she sped. This was too good a game to give up so soon.
Thus did we progress, the dog, the bus and I, for about a quarter of a mile. Every time I got within striking distance, she shot off another hundred yards and did the same again. Yes, I tried all the tricks, including ignoring her and walking towards home. She just took that as tacit approval to continue bus-baiting. When I eventually captured her, the driver was in stitches, but the embarrassment factor of this whole fiasco being observed by thirty-odd schoolkids took a while to live down.
And now? Now in her more mature years, she rarely ventures outwith the garden, though she still digs ginormous holes in the lawn, searching for imaginary moles. She won’t go out if it’s raining. She spends more time in her basket than on the furniture. And she likes to be tickled. Which is real progress, because in her younger years she would not sit still long enough to find out what being tickled is all about.
She wants to sit on laps instead of shoulders.
She has matured. In parts.
The moral of this story?
Jack Russell owners, take heart. The madcap years do not last for ever. They settle down. They become docile, loving, devoted pets. They become almost sane.
After about a decade.
And we could all learn a lesson from Bisto, perhaps. She has slipped effortlessly from puppyhood to senility, without bothering about all the heavy adult sh*t in between.
Maybe it is a dog’s life.