About once a month, I'll get a frantic e-mail from someone who's frustrated to the point of desperation. "Help!" the e-mail will scream. "I have a Jack Russell, and he digs, barks and chews when we're gone. He's too hyper! We can't take it anymore!"
Sometimes, it's all I can do not to write in return: "High energy? Digging? Barking? Chewing? Congratulations! You have an authentic Jack Russell terrier! What did you expect?"
What they expected, of course, was an adorable, low-key and well-mannered small dog, like Eddie on the TV show "Frasier," or Wishbone on the PBS children's series of the same name. What they don't know is that Moose, the dog who played Eddie, had a full-time trainer, or that the role of Wishbone was played by not one but a handful of well-trained dogs.
And what about their cute little hellion? Perfectly normal for any Jack Russell who isn't given the structure and the physical and mental exercise these hard-driving dogs need.
"I get those phone calls every day," says Margie Kauffman, past president of the Northern California breed club who has been active in rehoming unwanted Jacks. "They're mostly from folks who haven't done their homework and don't know of the breed's natural tendencies. The Jack Russell is a working terrier, with lots of energy and tenacity.
"These dogs are loving, loyal and very smart. But when they're bored, people say they're destructive," she says. "In my own pack, they're not bored. They get lots of exercise, and they're engaged all the time."
Lyndy Pickens got her first Jack (which the American Kennel Club calls Parson Russells, by the way) at the age of 3 and vows to have one as long as she lives.
"They're thugs in clown's clothing," she says. "This is not a dog bred to ask permission."
Indeed, knowing what the Jack Russell was bred for is essential to understanding how to keep both a terrier and your sanity, says Kauffman, who has seen thousands of Jack Russells over the years. ("My daughter calls me the patron saint of Jack Russells," she says, laughing.)
"If you look at any dog breed, they were bred for a specific purpose," she says. "Jack Russells weren't bred to be pets. They were bred to work: 150 years ago, the dog would have been everyone's household vacuum. Bugs, mice, rats -- people didn't want pests in the house, the barn or the chicken coop. The dogs had to work for their keep, killing the pests. They're not like a cat, who will eat and then not hunt again. The Jack Russell will keep killing.
"Jack Russells today are hardworking, tenacious little dogs as a result."
And not, please note, one of the better breeds to keep if you have rodents as pets.
So why are these dogs so popular? When living with people who understand them, who keep their minds and bodies exercised, who train them and work them constantly, who set limits and gently but firmly enforce them, the Jack Russell is an outstanding companion.
"I love how joyous they are," says Pickens.
"It's interesting to live with them," says Kaufman. "They're bright."
For people who understand the breed and are willing to work to keep a working terrier happy, there's no better dog in the world. For anyone else, though, if you're looking for a lazy dog or an easygoing dog for beginners, you're better off without this high-energy breed.
In other words: If you don't know Jack, you'd better not get one until you do. And even then: Are you up the challenge? Be sure beforehand, so your Jack Russell won't be another one looking for a new home.
(Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori have the week off. This article originally ran in November 2004.)
Rabbits perfect for condo life
Q: We live in a condo and have a bunny. Our association rules do not allow bunnies, however. Do you have information I can use to help change the rules? -- B.A., Honolulu
A: Your condo association is probably still thinking of rabbits as "livestock," not pets. In fact, I can think of few animals better suited for condo or apartment living than a neutered house rabbit.
So why should rabbits be allowed?
They're quiet. Does your association allow birds? I'll guarantee you a rabbit is mute compared to the noisiness of many parrots.
They're neat. A daily brushing will catch loose hair, and a vacuum will pick up scattered hay, food pellets or the occasional stray feces (it's pea-sized, dry and round) that don't make it into the litter box.
They're small. Even the biggest rabbits aren't much larger than a cat, and dwarf rabbits are considerably smaller.
The one downside I can think of is that rabbits will engage in destructive chewing if left to choose their own recreation. Even this problem is easily solved by "rabbit-proofing" the living area -- blocking off attractive chewing areas, putting cords into protective covers -- and offering safe chewing alternatives. -- Gina Spadafori
Paper litter for rabbits
Q: I buy clumping litter for our bunnies, and it hasn't seemed to affect either of them, one of whom we've had for more than four years. You suggest not only paper litter, but also covering the litter with hay. Our bunnies eat every morsel of hay that goes into their hutch, and I have a vision of them eating everything in the litter box, which sort of nullifies the point of having a box. Should we still switch to paper and hay? -- F.G., Dayton, Ohio
A: Yes, switch to paper and hay. Clumping litter puts your rabbits at risk of impaction. As for the hay, your rabbits know what's edible and what's not, and will eat the hay, not the litter. Putting a layer of high-quality hay -- not straw -- on top of the pelleted paper litter encourages rabbits to use the box, since they tend to pass feces while eating. (I think of eating hay while "on the john" as the rabbit equivalent of reading while in the bathroom.)
Like many animals, rabbits naturally want to keep their area clean and will use a litter box if it's attractive and accessible. Make sure the box is large enough to be comfortable and the sides are low enough for easy entry. Keep it filled with clean pellets and fresh hay, supplemented by a special food treat like an apple slice, and your rabbits will use it likely as not. Dropping feces while away from the box is normal for some rabbits, but fortunately cleanup is easy with a hand vac. Remember, too, that if your rabbits are not neutered, they will be very difficult to house-train. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
How one dog helped win an election
-- Credit a dog with helping President Franklin Roosevelt win his final election. On a trip to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, Roosevelt left his Scottish terrier, Fala, on the island and sent a Navy ship to fetch the dog, sparking an outrage from those who considered the incident a waste of taxpayer funds. But in a 1944 speech, Roosevelt quipped, "I don't resent attacks, and my family doesn't resent attacks, but Fala does resent them. ... His Scotch soul was furious." Eleanor Roosevelt later noted in her memoirs that the remarks were a turning point in getting FDR re-elected.
-- Forget citronella candles and mosquito zappers. One little brown bat can eat between 600 to 1,000 insects an hour.
-- Indonesia is the second-richest country in the world in terms of terrestrial biodiversity, after Brazil, and first in terms of marine biodiversity. Though covering a little more than 1 percent of the Earth's surface, Indonesia's forests represent 10 percent of the world's tropical forests and provide a home to 20 percent of the world's species of flora and fauna, 17 percent of the world's bird species, and more than 25 percent of the world's fish species. Less than 25 acres in the Indonesian island of Borneo contains more variety of species than are found in all of North America, according to Sky magazine.
-- Everyone needs a vacation, even Britain's royal horses, who are given a three-week vacation every year. They go to the beach, where they get to gallop freely on the sandy shores and swim in the ocean. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
Carrier an investment in feline safety
Every cat needs his own carrier. A sturdy carrier makes going to the veterinarian's, traveling or moving safer and easier for your pet and offers you some options for housing your cat in an emergency, such as during a natural disaster.
Ditch the cardboard carrier your cat came home from the shelter in, since it's not really designed for long-term use. (Not to mention, if the cardboard gets wet, you'll have a loose cat on your hands.) Look for a carrier that provides your cat with a feeling of security and the ability to look at the world outside of his cozy carrier.
The carriers I like to recommend are made of two pieces of high-impact plastic with vents along the top (the top and bottom held together by bolts) and with a grid door of stainless steel. Some models have a door on the top of the carrier as well as the front side, making getting a cat in and out even easier.
While a plastic carrier is probably your best bet for trips to the veterinarian, if you plan to take your cat into the cabin of a plane, you're better off with a soft-sided carrier. It's easier to fit under the seat and more comfortable to carry, since you can sling the bag over your shoulder.
Don't choose a carrier that's made entirely of wire, since the open design will make your cat feel more vulnerable, especially in a veterinary waiting room full of dogs.
A high-quality cat carrier is an inexpensive investment in your cat's safety. Don't put off buying this essential piece of cat gear. -- Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
What reptiles need
According to a survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, the top pet supplies purchased by owners of pet reptiles in 2004, by percent of those who reported purchasing the items:
Glass habitat 64 percent
Habitat furnishings 58 percent
Books on care 54 percent
Incandescent bulbs 39 percent
Fluorescent bulbs 38 percent
Bedding 30 percent
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Treats can help a shy dog cope
Use treats to help lessen your dog's fear of strange people or other dogs when out on walks.
Walk your dog before meals so your dog is hungry. At the first sight of a stranger, act jolly and relaxed, and give your dog a treat. Your goal is to help the dog see a stranger as your reason to pull out the treats and act happy.
If your dog begins to show fear, stop giving the treats for free. Ask your dog to sit -- which is calmer, more controlled behavior -- for the treat. Over time, decrease the distance between you and the stranger in baby steps to help your dog learn to cope successfully.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
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