Several years ago there was a tragedy at the Stone House. I had three terriers – Velcro, Squeegee, and Zipper. Terriers are like no other dogs – stubborn, brave, fiercely loyal, and affectionate. Zipper was the only male and was the sweetest of the bunch. He camped and kayaked with me and had an weird habit of picking up bricks in his mouth and running away with them. He was odd and was very high energy, but was completely gentle around other animals. Once I spotted him out in my back field laying down in the grass watching a deer graze a couple of feet away from him. One day I heard the girls wail, it wasn’t a bark – it was very different and alarming. I ran outside to see that some roaming dogs had killed my sweet boy. The girls were inconsolable. I was inconsolable.
I’m not the kind of pet owner who heads out to replace a lost pup. I don’t think you can replace one, they are unique and each hold a special place in our hearts, but as the weeks wore on I could visibly see that the girls were mourning and I missed my cuddly adventure dog. I put up a post on a local BBS asking if anyone knew of a Jack Russell Terrier rescue or breeder in the area. It was time to move on.
Someone recommended a breeder and although I have typically rescued dogs, after a talk with her on the phone I decided to go look at some puppies. The kennel was quite remote – up a series of dirt roads about 20 miles off the pavement. They had a racing and training facility there, so I knew their dogs were not vanity terriers, they were working dogs. She showed me a couple of puppies and my heart melted – that baby animal serotonin thing kicked in. As I looked the two available pups the owners pointed out a dog to me in a large training area. They told me his name was Cloud, and that they had bred him to compete for Confirmation. He was a gorgeous dog, I had never seen a terrier so perfectly proportioned. There was just one problem – he was terribly shy, so shy that he would bolt when touched by a judge in the ring. Worse still, his behavior was affecting the other dogs. He had been trained to race and to go to ground, but as a show dog he was useless. He needed a new home. He was 18 months old and had not been housebroken because he was a working dog. I sat with him for about a half hour, feeding him from my hand. The owners offered to let me just take him home with me. He had been adopted out once already and they were desperate to place him. They gave me his papers and I loaded him into the car for the two-hour ride home.
Once we got back to my place I put him in a dog run that used to be on the property. My other dogs were on radio collars so they were free to run in a large circular area around the house. Cloud would have to stay in the run until he got used to me and could be trained on the fence. The run was attached to my shop building so he had an indoor outdoor area and I filled it with a new bed and lots of toys and blankets that smelled like me. The next day after work I went into the run to spend some time with my new boy and found that he was not at all open to letting me touch or even approach him. I decided that I needed him to bond with me in some way every day, so I fed him all of his meals out of my hands. He would grab a bite of kibble then bolt so that I had no chance to pet him. One day I thought I would try to walk him on a leash – after an hour of chasing him in the dog run I cornered him and he fought me so hard that I worried that he could be injured if I tried to force him to let me catch him – I needed to try something different.
I decided to put one of those old metal porch rockers in the dog run. I would sit in it each morning and evening for an hour or more feeding and talking to my new pup. Days passed, weeks passed – nothing. He seemed happy to see me, he wagged his tail each time I approached the run – but he was not going to let me touch him. This went on for 28 days. On day 29 I had an idea.
I brought Velcro into the run with me and I fed them both by hand. Each time I fed Velcro I would pet her and give her lots of affection. Cloud would watch and I could see that he was just a little jealous. After about 45 minutes of feeding both dogs he finally decided to let me touch him. I petted him under his ear and he pushed into my hands. He wanted to be petted! It was like a floodgate opened. He would not let me stop – it was like he had a skin hunger. I renamed him Kirby that night, because he was sucking up all the affection he could get. That night he moved into the house with us and the next evening I started training him on the invisible fence. He took right to it, and in a couple of days he was running with the girls.
That was in the summer of 2007. Today Kirby is very affectionate, but only when he chooses to be. He doesn’t make friends with everyone, but if he chooses you it means you must be pretty special. He protects the girls, who have reasonably become wary of any strange or unwelcome animal entering the yard. He and Velcro love to eat persimmons in the winter when they fall from the trees. He kayaks, he camps, he kills snakes – he is sweet, shy, and brave. He’s not Zipper, but he filled that hole in our hearts after we lost him – he filled it by choosing to love us on his own terms.
It’s only been recently that he has allowed me to take his photo. Perhaps he is a bit jealous of the birds.