One fad on four legs Jack Russells: The intelligent, spunky terriers come in small packages but require a large amount of care. They often show a negative side.

February 08, 1996|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

They're in the movies. They're on television. They're even in the palaces of Britain.

They're Jack Russell terriers -- a fad on four legs.

Thanks to media attention, membership of the Timonium-based Jack Russell Terrier Club of America has surged from 3,500 to more than 6,000 in the past two years. And the club fields more than 100 calls a day from people wanting to know more about the little white dogs with the brown and black patches.

But fame has its price.

Although the 20-year-old club once spent most of its time overseeing field trials and registering members, it now has a new job -- rescuing feisty Jack Russells from shelters, streets and homes where they no longer are wanted.

Too often, people buying Jack Russells don't realize that they are acquiring a big dog in a small package, says Terri Batzer, administrative director of the club. It will kill a cat, maim a larger dog, snap at children who tease it and destroy a house and yard if not properly exercised and controlled.

"This is not a dog that can be ignored," says Catherine Brown of Geneseo, N.Y., who heads the club's rescue operation.

In the past three years, the group has rescued nearly 400 terriers across the country -- including a number in Maryland, where, for the first time, they are showing up in dog pounds and on the street.

Bred in England 200 years ago to pursue foxes into holes, the Jack Russell was a pet of the hunt set. They rarely were used for fox hunting in this country, but occasionally were put to work exterminating rats and groundhogs.

Hollywood animal trainers discovered the dog's intelligence and spunky personality, and plucked the terriers off the farms to put them on the screen.

Among the first was Eddie in the television show "Frasier."

Other Jack Russells co-starred in the movies "Mask" and "Crimson Tide." And a Jack Russell was given top billing on a new PBS children's show, "Wishbone."

Suddenly, the terriers were making headlines. A Pennsylvania woman who lost her Jack Russell while boating in Ocean City offered a $50,000 reward for the dog -- dead or alive. Britain's Prince Charles lost one of his Jack Russells while walking on the queen's Balmoral estate.

While the media focused on the terrier's mischievous nature, there also was an occasional item on the dog's negative side. Two Jack Russells in Bethesda escaped from their backyard and killed three of a neighbor's four cats, prompting an outcry for a law allowing owners to sue if their pets are killed or maimed by animals.

Mrs. Batzer faults the entertainment industry for inaccurately portraying the Jack Russell as a dog content to live in a city apartment, or even on a submarine, as in "Crimson Tide." Unsuspecting buyers, who can spend up to $800 for a Jack Russell, think they have bought a dog that will be content to sit all day at home or in a crate.

"This is a country dog," Mrs. Batzer said. "They do not do well in a city environment. They're busy all the time."

And while Jack Russells are intelligent, they are not especially obedient. They can perform tricks in the movies, but they are likely to bolt from their owner's control at the first sight of a cat or squirrel.

Problems with the Jack Russells have been exacerbated by unscrupulous breeders, who breed dogs indiscriminately and do not screen buyers, she added.

"People see Frasier on TV and all the ads," says Cindy O'Reilly, a Russell Rescue volunteer who has owned Jack Russells for 20 years. "They think they can make money on them, so they buy the first two they see and breed them just to make money."

The rescue of Bradley

In November, Ms. O'Reilly rescued Bradley, a 2-year-old male, from the Annapolis Animal Shelter. "He was due to be put to sleep the day I called," she recalls.

Bradley's owner had acquired him from a friend, but after eight months found him too much to handle. Ms. O'Reilly says Bradley was a sweet dog -- but a typical Jack Russell. "He was very energetic and very romping," she said.

Like most of the dogs found by the rescue group, Bradley's story had a happy ending. He was adopted by a family in Pennsylvania and lives on a farm where he has room to run.

But now the Jack Russell Terrier Club is fighting to keep dogs like Bradley from falling into the wrong hands to start with.

The organization, which moved from New Jersey to Timonium when Mrs. Batzer became director two years ago, has published a pamphlet titled "The 'Bad Dog' Talk." It points out that the traits that make Jack Russells good hunting dogs -- barking, aggressiveness and digging -- can make them annoying companions.

"We don't want the dog to get a bad name," says Mrs. Batzer, who has had Jack Russells for 14 years. "I think they are a wonderful dog for the right person."

Warnings

The pamphlet warns that Jack Russells may fight other dogs and injure small pets. They should not be allowed around small children unattended because they will not tolerate rough handling. And they require a tall, secure fence to keep them from roaming.

Although the country is the best place for a Jack Russell, owners who live in apartments or condominiums must make sure the dogs get plenty of mental and physical exercise, Ms. Brown says.

Otherwise, they might find themselves in the situation of a New York man who returned home to find his apartment ransacked. When police responded, they were attacked by the culprits: the man's two Jack Russells.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.