When I was a kid growing up in Surrey in England we had a neighbour, Fred Carruthers, who was a forest warden. Fred was a hearty type with a big moustache, habitually dressed in a lumberjack’s jacket and boots, who could chop a few dead trees down and trap a few wild rabbits before lunch.
He’d pass by our house in his station wagon, hooting the horn to greet us and often stopped by to give us wild strawberries or occasionally, and clandestinely, a rabbit or two. Clandestine, because my sister and I refused to eat rabbits, seeing them as pets. My mother was, and is, a fairly honest soul but fed us rabbit but told us it was chicken. Her one deception I like to think!
Fred had a terrifying little Jack Russell terrier who went crazy every time he was in Fred’s car, caught a scent in the forest or saw another animal. Typically tiny as Jack Russells are, it was always astonishing to see this small dog jumping up and down, yapping and carrying on like a lunatic every time it launched a campaign against some real or imagined slight or danger. The sight of our family dog, a placid and affable female mongrel, drove the Jack Russell to heights of demented barking and leaping around.
It would take on huge dogs – about ten times its own size – fearlessly and without a thought for the odds of getting injured. It would hassle horses whenever it got the chance, snapping at their hooves without the slightest fear of being kicked in the head. Always,it seemed, the adversary – large or small – would quickly take stock of this whirling little canine dervish and decide to back off.
So I wasn’t a bit surprised to read a BBC News website story about a little Jack Russell in South Dakota chasing a mountain lion up a tree and refusing to let him down.
Jack, owned by farmer Chad Strenge, weighs 17lb. He chased the 150lb mountain lion into a tree and stood at the bottom barking furiously, as Jack Russells do.
His owner, who has a farm in Colman, Moody County, said “Jack trees cats all the time” and presumably just saw the mountain lion as a bigger-than-usual cat to be chased up a tree as normal. He added that Jack was “very territorial.”
A South Dakota local paper, The Argus, quoted Professor Jonathan Jenks, an expert on cougar migration, as saying that it would normally take a hunter and two or three hounds to chase a lion up a tree. (Hunters may now want to swap their hounds for Jack Russell terriers.)
“It very well could have lost a territory and decided to take off from the Black Hills” Jenks added.
Sadly for the montain lion, Chad Strenge decided to shoot it. Its body was given to South Dakota State University where it will be used in research.
The Madison Daily Leader newspaper quoted Arden Petersen of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks department as saying that Strenge was within his rights to shoot the animal as people in South Dakota may kill mountain lions which they perceive as threatening them, their livestock or their pets.
In this case, however, it would seem that the poor animal was simply looking for a bit of new territory and the threat came from barky little Jack.
The BBC report mentioned another family pet which confronted ‘a potentially dangerous north American wild animal’. In 2006, a ginger tomcat – also called Jack – chased a black bear up a tree in West Milford, New Jersey. The bear climbed down after presumably figuring out that Jack was just a ginger tom. However, the cat promptly and fearlessly chased the bear up another tree. Finally, Jack’s owner called him into the house – for supper I’d guess, otherwise the owner would have been completely ignored – and the relieved black bear made his escape.
I can easily imagine a ginger tomcat chasing a bear up a tree as I once owned a large Scottish ginger tom, Magnus, who had the same spirit as the two pets described above. But that’s a whole other story.