From the July/August 2007 issue of Sporting Classics.
Some friends of ours have a Jack Russell terrier, Georgia by name, who barks like crazy—more of an ear-splitting shriek, really—whenever the doorbell rings. She then scampers to the door and, yapping all the while, proceeds to jump as high as she can for as long as she can. She appears to levitate, coming straight up off the floor as if her feet were spring-loaded. Georgia’s small even by Jack Russell standards—not much bigger than a good-sized loaf of bread—and it’s pretty comical to see this tiny creature doing her Grendel imitation and behaving as if she were some kind of fearsome, slavering beast.
But that’s the thing about Jack Russells: If ever a breed perfectly embodied the old chestnut “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog,” this is it. You get the sense that the typical Jack Russell would take on King Kong, and be grateful for the opportunity. Hyperkinetically active and eternally watchful—it seems to sleep with one eye open—the Jack Russell compresses a kennel’s worth of energy and attitude into a package that fits in the pocket of a Barbour coat.
Another quality that Jack Russells have in spades is desire. They all but seethe with it, and they’re as keen for the hunt as any breed you can think of. The website www.terrier.com characterizes the Jack Russell as “a serious hunting dog,” and stresses that in the nearly 150 years since its namesake, Reverend John Russell of Devonshire, England, developed the basic type, it’s remained true to its working origins, fully capable of following fox and other game underground—or of dispatching varmints around the stables, which is the role performed by most of the Jack Russells I’m familiar with. In certain circles, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone who has (A) horses, (B) Labrador retrievers and (C) at least one Jack Russell terrier.
The writer Robert F. Jones used his Jack Russell, Roz, to hunt grouse and woodcock in the hillside covers near his Vermont home. She excelled at finding and flushing but was always muscled out of the way by one of Bob’s Labs when there was a retrieve to be made. On what Bob knew would be Roz’s last hunt, however, he sternly called off the Labs to let the little warrior retrieve a woodcock, a task she carried out with great pride. It was a terribly poignant moment.
Still, as a pure retriever of birds I doubt there’s ever been a Jack Russell remotely in the same league with “Mighty Mick,” who for ten seasons now has been the waterfowling partner of renowned California wildlife photographer Tupper Ansel Blake. Blake, whose work has been featured in several books as well as in such publications as Audubon, National Geographic, and Smithsonian, refers to Mick as his “diminutive duck dog.”
When the mallards, pintails, greenwings and other birds start flying at Marsh Island Ranch, Blake’s place in northern California’s waterfowl-rich Klamath Basin, chances are that you’ll find the two of them crouched on some mucky point of land, with the decoys bobbing around them, the wind rustling the tules, and their eyes—both sets of them—scanning the lowering skies.
And once the shooting starts and the ducks begin to fall—a traditionalist, Blake shoots either a Parker or a Winchester Model 21, both in 20-gauge—Mick, who at nine inches tall is somewhat “vertically challenged,” stands up on his hind legs to get the best possible view of the action. He’s a hell of a marker, too—as a couple of Blake’s friends found out when they sailed a bird that their Labs, despite a diligent 20-minute search, couldn’t come up with.
“I’d been watching Mick,” Blake recalls, “and I knew he’d gotten a good mark. I told the guys ‘I can get that bird.’ They didn’t believe me, of course, but I just said ‘Mick, dead bird!’ He went out, hunted around a little bit, and found it.
“After that,” Blake laughs, “they believed me.”
For the record, “dead bird”—which he picked up from the dog handlers on a Georgia quail hunt—is pretty much the only command Blake uses. Or, for that matter, needs. The usual retriever vocabulary—“over,” “back,” etc.—isn’t in Mick’s lexicon. But he’s so tenacious, so indefatigable, that few if any ducks get away from him.
“A goose is too much bird for him,” Blake admits. “But he has no problem retrieving any kind of duck, even a big mallard or pintail. Sometimes if he’s holding the bird crossways it’ll get hung up in the tules as he’s bringing it back, and then I have to help him.”
Blake describes Mick as a good swimmer with no aversion to cold water. Wanting to provide him with a little extra buoyancy and weatherproofing, a few years ago Blake custom-ordered a neoprene vest. The maker was located in the South, and as Blake related the necessary measurements the woman taking his order remarked, “My, you have an itty-bitty dawg…”
Curiously, Mick has no interest whatsoever in retrieving, say, a tennis ball. Show him a duck, though, and it’s as good as roasted. That’s about how it happened, too. One day when Mick was about nine months old Blake let him tag along while a bunch of Lab folks were working their dogs. Mick saw what the Labs were doing—and before anybody could stop him he’d run out, grabbed a duck, brought it back, and dropped it on the pile. A light went on in Blake’s head, and the two have been a duck hunting team to reckon with ever since.
I also have it on good authority that Mick enjoys the “fruits” of spring cattle brandings—Rocky Mountain oysters, I mean. As to whether he prefers them raw or cooked, well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.
And thus are legends born. +++
Sculpting Mighty Mick
by Mick Doellinger
When I first met Mighty Mick, the Jack Russell Terrier that later inspired my bronze sculpture “Mr. Russell,” he was 16 years old.
Surprisingly, he looked and behaved like a 5- or 6-year-old dog, and I recall commenting on what a great looking “type” of Jack Russell terrier he was (the breed varies so much). I told his owners he would make a great model for a sculpture.
Within a year of our meeting, Mighty Mick had passed away, and his owners called to ask if I was still interested in sculpting a Jack Russell.
Most of my pieces start with a desire to sculpt a particular animal and meeting this dog was the catalyst for this piece. +++
See more of Doellinger’s work here.