Some really sad news, as I just got off the phone with my parents, and they had to put down Russell, the family Jack Russell Terrier. This was not a great surprise, as he was sixteen and had a tremendous run followed by a slow and steady decline, but it still is rather upsetting for the family, particularly my mother and father.
For those of you who have never had the privilege of meeting a Jack Russell terrier, they are not so much a pet as they are a person and a presence. We got Russell in the middle 1990’s when a family friend, David Judy, had a stroke and could no longer control him. When we got Russell, he was wild. He was the closest thing to feral that you can get with a domesticated breed of dog, but we have learned that Jack Russell terriers are only energetic for the first 14-15 years.
It wasn’t his fault- he was just having too much fun, and he had been graced with more than his fair share of energy, all jam packed into that tiny little body. Don’t get me wrong, and don’t let the pictures fool you- this was the biggest dog I have ever known.
There were so many wonderful things about Russell that I could talk about that it is hard to figure out where to start. He was wild, but obedient. He would spend hours in the yard with dad, “helping” him tend the gardens or mow the lawn or clean the porch or whatever. He spent every night under the covers, snuggled up against mom’s leg- an arrangement that was comforting and secure for both of them.
Russell giving “the look,” which meant it was time to play with the ball in the background. With Russell, it was always time to play ball.
He wasn’t too fond of other dogs, but he did love balls. He could smell them. You could put a ball in a cabinet while Russell was nowhere around and come back later and find Russell parked in front of the cabinet. He somehow was able to sense the essence of ball, even behind closed doors and when he should have had no idea it was in there. My mother and brother played fetch with him for so many hours that last year my mother had to have a medical procedure because she had suffered the same injury that most major league pitchers have at some point in their career- a torn rotator cuff.
One of my favorite memories of Russell was listening to the terrorized yells of the fraternity boys when they saw him. My parents live in a college town, Bethany, and the fraternity houses have large expansive yards and are interspersed throughout the neighborhood with the town folks. One of Russell’s great joys was to steal the volleyball from the outdoor volleyball court at the frat house, and then push it around their yard with his nose with 20 college kids chasing after him trying to get the ball back. They never could, and so it was not uncommon to hear shouts of “Here comes Russell, grab the ball” drifting through the neighborhood. On one memorable occasion, Russell got loose during a college soccer game, and the entire crowd got to watch him dribble the ball through dozens of soccer players for 15 minutes before they could catch him.
Relaxing on the couch.
He was not the most photogenic dog in the world, but he was much better looking in person. And I mean in person. This was not just a pet, as Russell really was a member of the family. When you talked to him, you knew he understood, because he had people eyes. I have never known another dog like this, and I am convinced that Russell, unlike any other pet, knew what we were saying when we talked to him.
But all of that slowly came to an end the past few months. He was sixteen, and he was slowing down. His vision started to go, his hearing went, and he would walk around the house, head hung low, a shell of his former self. He was never in pain, but it was clear the end was near the last time I saw him this summer, and I made my peace with him then.
At any rate, I just got the call from mom, and he is gone. I had hoped he would pass on his own, but we just took too good care of him, so they had to make the decision no pet owner ever wants to make. He went gracefully and quietly and without any pain. My parents are both distraught to the point that even the vets cried during the procedure, but that too, will pass in time. Russell is better off where he is now, even though right now we are not.
We were, however, lucky for all those years we did have with him. RIP, Russell. We will miss you.