Terriers follow instinct to vie in national trials Dogs originally bred to chase foxes from holes during hunt

October 15, 1995|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

HAVRE DE GRACE -- Before one competition in the Jack Russell Terrier Association of America's National Trials yesterday, Megan Johnson stood in line in a yellow slicker, while 6 1/2 -month old Tac whimpered in her arms.

Then it was Tac's turn to compete in Susquehanna State Park. With morning rain pelting down, the lithe little dog approached a man-made, 10-foot-long tunnel with an entrance hole about 8 inches wide. When judge Terry Grainger said the word, Megan, 13, unleashed Tac.

Just 4.55 seconds later, he had wormed his way through to the other end, well within the one-minute limit, and barked at a caged rat at the hole's end for at least 30 seconds -- another requirement related to Jack Russells' original purpose of hunting burrowing animals.

Megan's braces gleamed as she smiled and took Tac to the next trial. "He loves this," she said. "They love to play all the time -- that's their goal in life."

Many people in the state park yesterday were serious about competing with their Jack Russells, which cost between $300 and $800 from breeders and are among the most popular pedigree dogs.

"It's not just a beauty contest," said David Ross, the chairman of the 5,700-member, all-volunteer Jack Russell Terrier Club of America based in Lutherville. "They have to move correctly."

The event brought 888 dogs, whose owners came from Canada and 35 states to be part of the 13th annual competition.

Form, agility and hunting ability are checked for the breed, which includes the much talked-about "Eddy" on the NBC sitcom "Frasier," and dogs that have appeared in the films "Mask" and "Crimson Tide."

The dogs -- known by their white or tan coats, brown and black markings, and average 12-pound build -- initially were bred for hunting by the Rev. John Russell 200 years ago in England. Their job was to burrow into ground holes and chase out foxes chased into holes by hounds during hunts.

Yesterday, everything was outdoors under alternately clear and rainy skies, which had many of the cute, aggressive and loud terriers shivering and yelping, some of them wearing little jackets.

Their owners dressed the part, too. Some donned sweat shirts emblazoned with terriers, others stood under terrier-motif umbrellas and sported dog-decorated jewelry.

The club charged $12 for each of the competitions Friday, yesterday and today that fetch ribbons, plates and trophies for winners.

Rex, a 5-year-old Jack Russell was escorted around the agility test by 12-year-old Elizabeth Wishe from New Hampton, N.Y. As the rain pummeled them, she held Rex's leash and encouraged him to jump through hoops and hurdles, climb an A-frame wall and a seesaw, and snake through a tunnel approximately 4 feet long, which, because it was collapsible, appeared to have no end.

The dog had a will of his own, going through the course at a random sequence during practice. Elizabeth was undeterred.

"I think he did very good, considering it was his first time," she said.

Besides the hunting and agility tests, puppies and older dogs got a chance to show how good they look.

Barbara Jordan entered Rocket in the conformation trial. Like many at the competition, she takes her 21-month-old dog around the country to compete. Having traveled from Piedmont, Calif., she stood Rocket on the grass with dogs of the same size and hair texture as judges evaluated their coats, chest size, bite and flexibility. Rocket was found lacking, but Ms. Jordan blamed his defeat on the weather. "He had a bad hair day," she said.

Today's competition is the Bronze Medallion Class, in which 20 dogs that have been in hunts get a chance to compete in simulated hunting races. According to Chicagoan Kathleen Hardy, who edits a Jack Russell newsletter, the final competition lets them "show they possess everything a Jack Russell terrier should possess."

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