I have a way with animals. You might say I’m an animal lover. More precisely perhaps, I like to think of myself as an animal understanderer. It’s an ability that can be learned but the process doesn’t happen overnight. Most of you will recall I’m a disciple of Yogi Berra and one of his most important teachings is: "You can observe a lot just by watching."
As I do with people, I watch animals closely and try to discern from their behaviour what they’re thinking - what their likes and dislikes are. Sometimes I’m probably off base, other times I’m pretty sure I know what’s going on in their wee brains.
Someone less charitable than I might suggest that it takes a wee brain to know another wee brain. That would be an amusing thing to suggest all right. If they suggested it to me I’d pee on their leg.
I’m able to establish a rapport with most non-hostile creatures - from kittens to that nice lady at the door who frets about my eternal salvation. But I have to confess to having a wee bit of difficulty with Benny, the Jack Russell terrier pup I inherited.
I’ve had a few dogs in my life. Many of you will recall previous columns about my dearly-departed Gryphon, the hunka-hunka-burnin’-love Rottweiler. Most of my family and friends have dogs. I get along with them okay. Even my sister Theresa’s dumb-as-a-post Sheepdog.
But none of those dogs was a JRT. Therefore, none have prepared me for being a JRT caretaker.
For instance, do you know what the animal in the photo below is doing?
It’s called “pronking.” They jump WAY up in the air and sproing off in a new direction. It helps them escape from leopards but sometimes it seems they do it just for fun. I knew antelopes pronked because I was an avid watcher of National Geographic and Wild Kingdom.
Now I know that Jack Russell terriers do it too. They do it pretty much all the time they’re not asleep. Which is pretty much all the time.
I’m no Dr. Dolittle but I do talk with animals. I’m a firm believer that, like with foreigners, if you speak clearly and loudly, you will be understood. It just takes a little repetition, a little time, a little patience.
Benny loves going for walks. All dogs do of course. When Benny sees me put on my shoes he starts quivering and barking and running around in circles and biting my laces in order to help me along.
However, he’s holding back most of his energy because I have not yet got the leash in my hand.
We keep the leash at the top of a short set of four steps. Benny races to the top step and waits until I have the leash in my hand. Sometimes he helps by holding it for me in his teeth and not letting go. Eventually though, I have control of it.
Once he sees that I do, he proceeds to pronk.
About every second or third pronk, he misses the top step and tumbles to the bottom. No matter. He just sproings back to the top and pronks feverishly while I make futile attempts to snap the leash onto the tiny clip on his tiny collar while he’s airborne.
I say: “Sit Benny.”
He misunderstands. He’s pretty sure I said, “Jump higher” and obliges.
“For Gawd’s sakes Benny! Sit still!”
“Gotcha. Higher and faster!”
It becomes a ballet of sorts: Pronk. Swipe with the leash. Pronk. Swipe. Tumble. Sproing! Pronk. Swipe. Repeat. Tumble. Sproing!
I’d tell you about the walks themselves but I think I’ve cried enough for one day.
I confess to being a tad perplexed by this failure to communicate. In most other respects he seems to be a pretty smart dog. He just has trouble understanding me. JRTs were first bred in England which could explain it.
I need to work on my accent and then talk to him clearly and loudly. He’ll eventually get it.
Because I have a way with animals.