Low life

Have I killed my friend’s Jack Russell? Time to check Google

It started calmly enough but then all hell broke loose on my three-night dog-sit

15 August 2015

9:00 AM

15 August 2015

9:00 AM

Toby goes to bed at 10 o’clock sharp every night otherwise he gets irritable. Toby sleeps on the bed always. Toby is too old to jump up on to the bed, so the bedroom footstool should be placed next to the bed to help him to climb up. He is also allowed up on the furniture. Toby’s food bowl should be filled every morning and his squeaky hedgehog toy should be placed in the bowl with his food, or he won’t eat. He is allowed six treats per day from the Silver Jubilee tin on the fridge. Toby likes to be patted but not stroked. Stroking upsets him and he may bite.

These were the instructions for my three-night dog-sit.

Toby is a 12-year-old, mostly white, very male Jack Russell. Although he is now deaf, touchy and barrel-shaped, one can still see that he must have been a fine-looking animal in his pomp. When I was introduced to him by his owner before she left for the airport, I stooped and gave the old boy’s head and lower back a friendly pat, plus one small experimental stroke, and he went berserk, snapping and snarling at me like the proverbial sclerotic old Major.


We spent our first evening together in the sitting room. There were two sofas, each with three cushions. On the face of all six cushions was a tapestry picture of Toby’s head and shoulders. He sat on his sofa radiating noli me tangere. I sat on the opposite one reading Take a Break and listening to the wonderful Craig Charles show on Radio 2. Every time I looked up from the magazine, Toby’s black, expressive, almond-shaped eyes were watching me intently, perhaps wondering where I stood on the political spectrum.

I’d flung open the windows to let in the summer night air. We were quiet and peaceful until a bloody great hornet flew into the room at 40 miles an hour, head-butted a light bulb, then zoomed about in a deranged, random manner. To hand, fortunately, was one of those tennis racquet-style insect killers where you trap the insect against the strings, press a button on the handle, and the insect is sizzled to death by electrocution. I stood on the sofa wildly swinging and swiping at the punch-drunk hornet with this technological triumph, while Toby followed its erratic flight with his eyes in that calm, professional manner typical of a Jack Russell terrier.

Eventually, the hornet paused for thought on a standard lampshade and I got the bat over it, pressed the red button, and miniature diadems of sparks snaked festively around its thorax, paralysing it. When I thought it was done to a turn, I lifted the bat and the hornet fell to the floor. Toby climbed down from his sofa, ambled over to inspect the scene, and the silly old sod accidentally stepped on the hornet, which perhaps wasn’t quite dead, and received its sting in the pad of his near-side back paw. The evidence for this was the dog flinging himself down and gnawing frantically at his paw pad, trembling violently all over, and crying out piteously.

Bicarbonate of soda, said Google. I found a jar in the larder and tipped some into a mug and mixed it with water. Then I got hold of the dog’s leg and shoved the paw into the mug and held it there to soak. I think the dog was so surprised by this innovative affront to his dignity that he forgot to lose his temper. Then he remembered. With an angry snort he bit my hand — ineffectually — and withdrew his foot from the mug. I slapped his face, hard, and stuck his leg back in the cup. And we went on like that — nip, slap, nip, slap — until finally he did a sort of spinning-crocodile manoeuvre and ran away on three legs.

I ran back to the iPad. Yes, dogs do indeed die from hornet stings, said a Google search result, listing anaphylactic-shock symptoms, of which trembling was one. Further panic-stricken online searching came up with a vet’s advice to check the site for the barb and poison sac and if possible remove it. Oh, great. So we had another violent struggle for possession of his back paw, during which I tried to examine the pad with a pencil torch — and failed. Now it was my turn to lose my temper. ‘Die, then! Die!’ I yelled at him.

Two hours later, after further tempestuous applications of baking soda, the crisis had passed. He lived. Our evening of death, pain and violent struggle concluded with one final battle of wills about whether or not Toby was going to sleep with me on the bed, a battle which he comprehensively lost.

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  • trace9

    Just like to mention; that red subscription pop-up appeared while I was on this. Compared to the ‘story’ I really found it quite interesting.

    • Tamerlane

      JC is a legend and by far the best writer at the Speccie. Move along.

  • Jugurtha

    I actually killed a Jack Russell once. I reversed over it in my van. Just saying…”the dog it was that died” etc.
    Jack Russell’s are incredibly agile and noted for their speed of reaction. It doesn’t take much nous to avoid the tyre of a slowly reversing van…so maybe it was suicide…who knows? The woman who owned the dog called me a murderer. I’d just finished building her a new garden wall and been paid…cash…so I wasn’t too bothered. I said: “sorry love but that’s dogs for you”. She said: “what on earth do you mean you f**kin maniac?”
    I said: “I dunno…it was just something to say”. Then I got in my van and drove off. She ran after me screaming: “are you just going to leave it there” and banging on the side of the van. I stopped and wound down the window and she stuck her head in and shouted: “You can’t just leave it there”. I replied: “Look love, it’s a dead dog; I don’t want it. What do you want me to do with it?”
    She said: “I don’t know”. I drove home.

    I got bitten by our neighbours Jack Russell several times as a kid so, for me, it kind of evened up the score a bit.

    Anyway, that summarises my “lived experience” of Jack Russells.

    • blandings

      Emotional delicacy isn’t your strong suit is it?
      You could have been sympathetic – solemn little ceremony – that kind of thing
      Had a good laugh when you got home

      • jonathan

        It takes all sorts to make a world (at least thats the theory behind multi cultural diversity)

      • Jugurtha

        No. I’m actually fairly empathic and sensitive when it’s required, but this was a dog. I’ve no great feeling for dogs. They smell, they bite and they don’t have souls. Obviously, there was the woman’s grief to consider ( I’m aware other people are attached to animals-that’s my empathy coming through), but she’d been a bit of pain generally and I only got two cups of tea in three days. She then called me a murderer and a f**kin maniac. Also, I forgot to mention earlier that this was about half seven and there was football on at eight.
        I considered all these factors and decided on a course of action. And I still maintain that either it was suicide or a dog so supremely unaware of its surroundings that it was bound to happen sooner or later.

        • blandings

          Two cups of tea?!
          Well, she’s clearly no dude and got what was coming to her.

    • jonathan

      My mate had 2 jack russels, mother and daughter. He also owned a ferret……well one day we were mucking about at his house when we hear this almighty wailing howling commotion. We rushed into the garage (the apparent epicentre of said furore) and discovered the younger dog struggling behind the chest freezer with the ferret, which had its teeth clamped into the dogs nose. Because of the narrow gap behind the freezer, the dog couldnt get away-and the ferret wasnt for letting go either. Come to think of it I cant remember what the outcome was, but there was a titanic struggle.

      • Jugurtha

        I’ve been bitten by a ferret. That hurt.
        Sounds to me that what you witnessed was part of a rabbit supremacist plot. They always use divide and rule tactics to keep carnivores in their place. Rabbits own the media, they dominate in politics, all the institutions. Carnivores have got to show much greater solidarity if they are ever going to achieve economic and cultural parity. Ripping each others’ faces off in some dingy back alley behind a freezer is, frankly, just where the rabbits want them.
        Did you know that ferrets are 5 times more likely to be stopped and searched than rabbits?

    • ViolinSonaten b minor.

      You really are a heartless sorry excuse for a person. A little bit of compassion
      for a fellow human being might have been the decent thing to do considering
      you just killed her beloved pet, you know a bit of kindness.

      • Sanctimony

        I believe you suffer from what’s known as an irony bypass…

      • Jugurtha

        How do you know this pet was ‘beloved’? The jury’s still out on whether this was suicide or not. God only knows what she’d done to drive the poor mut to take its own life. She’d probably been feeding it those veggie kibble things and made it attend doggy anger-management sessions at the local organic / holistic animal psychologist because she saw it barking at a cat. She lived in Crouch End and had a plaque on her front door exhorting callers to “be the change you want to see in the world”.

        Enough said? I probably did the dog a favour. I can see him now chasing cosmic postmen around the great front garden in the sky.

  • ViolinSonaten b minor.

    Oh what a sweet dog and an excellent story, although not familiar with
    Jack Russell’s myself. A neighbour had a somewhat fat one that disappeared, eventually found in or climbing out of ( cannot remember) a rabbit hole
    of which it was trapped in. Lost a bit of weight and eventually was found.
    Vet said it survived due to eating mud and finding water.
    I am more familiar with larger dogs myself but do have a soft spot for Highland Terriers and Miniature Schnauzers.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    I used to keep Jack Russels. Got the scars to prove it.

  • SackTheJuggler

    Where I live in West Yorkshire, Jack Russells were always the dog that old men got to keep them company after their wife died. Widows, on the other hand, seemed to opt for Westies.

  • DoctorCrankyFlaps

    Enjoyed reading that : )

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