Contest goes to the dogs

Competition: Jack Russell terriers and their owners participate in the largest national trials held exclusively for the pint-sized hunters.

October 24, 2004|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

The wildlife knew better than to stick around this weekend in the Steppingstone Farm Museum section of Susquehanna State Park.

Anybody who brought just any dog there would quickly realize his pet wasn't welcome, either.

Yesterday, on the second day of the 22nd annual Jack Russell Terrier Club of America's National Trials, 1,100 of the diminutive hunting dogs had clearly taken over the landscape in the northeast part of Harford County.

"You could bring a German shepherd down here, and these dogs would start going nuts - all of them," said Bob Stutz, 61, of Columbus, Ohio, with his two terriers, Reagan and Lincoln, in tow.

But there was relative calm as leashed Jack Russells competed in events such as conformation (overall appearance and structure), go-to-ground (hunting technique) and agility. Others jumped around in cages or roamed the rolling hills and stone fences with their owners near Steppingstone Farm Museum.

Brenda Treathardt, 39, was discussing her 1,700-mile trip from Wellington, Colo., to attend the three-day event when the topic changed to her necklace, which held a gold ornament in the shape of a Jack Russell's head and neck.

"I've got a gold ring with a Jack Russell on it, too," said Treathardt, who owns five terriers. "We're just junkies."

The National Trials is the largest of the estimated 60 trials that take place throughout the country, said Glen Churchfield, chairman of the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America, a Timonium-based organization with close to 8,000 members.

Owners are fiercely loyal to their terriers, and they drive hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to stay in contact with a roving community that many consider family.

Being six months pregnant didn't stop New Jersey trainer Lynne Lozano, 27, from showing terriers. She moved from Texas when her husband was recently transferred to McGuire Air Force Base. With a client base that extends across the United States, she said she has been able to maintain a training business that began in earnest in college.

"It's rewarding for a lot of reasons," Lozano said. "You meet a lot of people and make a lot of friends."

While Lozano plans to keep training the dogs after she gives birth, many other faithful Jack Russell owners say they don't have children or have already raised their children. Their reason: These energetic terriers always want attention, and they are willing to compete for it.

Jack Russells stand 10 to 15 inches tall at the base of the neck and were first used to drive red foxes and other prey from their holes. The JRTCA places a premium on ensuring that the breed's hunting characteristics stay sharp.

"They need to be a working dog first and a pet second," Lozano said.

A few Jack Russell owners said that the behavior of terriers such as Eddie on NBC's Frasier and Wishbone on the PBS children's show give potential owners the incorrect impression that they are docile.

"It's like having a toddler that never grows up," said Valerie Luevano, 29, of Charlottesville, Va.

"People ask us, `Are there quiet Jack Russells?'" said Roger Hockenberry, 36, of Arlington, Va. "We just laugh."

Treathardt runs a regional rescue center for Jack Russells, giving temporary homes to unwanted terriers from Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and parts of New Mexico. She said she placed 52 dogs last year.

Most terrier breeders are so protective of the animals that they promise to take them back from unsatisfied owners "no matter how old they are," Treathardt said.

Many owned other dogs before exclusively raising terriers.

As Carmen VanLeeuwen, 33, of Grimsby, Ontario, said: "Once you go Jacking, you never go back."

The national trials conclude today with events from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Steppingstone Farm Museum in Susquehanna State Park near Havre de Grace. Admission is free.

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