Having written about my new puppy last month and touched upon Jack Russell, his terriers and The Jack Russell Club of Great Britain I thought it might be interesting to have a look at the present situation regarding "The Breed"? I put the word breed in inverted commas as I doubt very much if such a breed actually exists. A type, certainly but a breed I doubt it.
As I understand it, a breed of anything has to have certain characteristics which remain true throughout any mating which may occur and all of those characteristics have to be present in each and every breeding. So, if for example, one selected a male from anywhere in the world and crossed it with a female of the same breed the resulting progeny would be the same as the two parents. Having had a considerable amount of experience in breeding terriers and, in terriers generally, referred to as Jack Russell's, I know that quite often the expected puppies differ from the parents, sometimes to an alarming degree. I don't know what the criteria is for establishing a breed. I would imagine a breed only becomes established when a particular group of animals breed true, consistently, over a number of years. I doubt if that is the case with many of the, so called, Jack Russell type of terriers on the market today.
Having spoken to a number of enthusiastic terrier breeders over the years, and I mean real enthusiasts, not puppy sellers, it would appear, in general terms, they have to resort to the addition of out breeding periodically to maintain the type they desire. This could mean using, for example, a Lakeland Terrier or Fox Terrier in order to enhance particular qualities or strengthen a desirable characteristic. Having seen firsthand the vast array of farm yard terriers on the market, being sold under the heading of Jack Russell, I am unconvinced that any such "breed" actually exists. Since last month's article I have had the opportunity to have a look at the web sites of The Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain, The Kennel Club and The Parson Russell Terrier Club. Sadly, I am more confused now than I was before I started. The Kennel Club actually attribute, what they call, a Jack Russell to breeders in Australia. It would appear their standard for the breed was formulated by Australian breeders whom, the clubs literature tells the reader, took their terriers with them when they emigrated. The Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain's breed standard is actually accredited to The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America. Why they were unable to formulate a breed standard of their own I find mind boggling. Especially as they claim to have put together the true standard in England forty years ago.
They also claim Parson Russell Terriers are now so rare as to almost have disappeared. But most incredible of all they claim the "true working Jack Russell Terrier" is, "Safe, where it always has been, long before the Sporting Parson bought one, in the hands of real working terrier men and women". Well, there you have it a type of terrier existed that was working long before Parson Russell obtained his first terrier, no doubt about that. However, it was not known as a Jack Russell terrier "long before the Parson bought one", it may have been called a Bill Smith or Brain Jones terrier or, indeed,any other name you care dream up but the type of terrier now known as a Jack Russell did not become named as such until the Rev Russell's terriers became the object of admiration and were unheard of before that event. One would think, indeed, expect a club claiming to represent a breed would, at the very least, not make such basic errors in its publicity material. The point they also appear to make regarding working terriers is a valid one but working terriers of the Jack Russell type were by no means unique to the Rev Russell. They were quite wide spread within the country community. Times were different as were attitudes and the landed gentry and rich hunted all manner of animals with all kinds of dogs. Much of what they did in those days would today be illegal and many of the species they hunted are protected. But, hunt, they did and they used the best type dog for the job and or the species they were pursuing. The Sealyham Terrier which originated in Wales was used to hunt fox, martin, polecat, badger and pretty much anything else that would provide some sport. It was quite similar to the Jack Russell terrier type in its shape and size and was quite different from the modern version,
The Kennel Club Sealyham which is short legged and square headed and probably couldn't chase its own shadow has no resemblance to the original terrier. Mrs. Alice Serrel, also of Devon, kept and bred a working type of terrier which was as near as could be to the Russell type. Her terriers were also required to run with hounds and, therefore, were long in the leg. It doesn't take much time or effort when researching the Jack Russell Terrier to realise the fact that the, so called, breed represented a type of working terrier which had been for many, many years popular throughout the west country and elsewhere. Used to bolt foxes, this type of terrier had to keep up with hounds and walk to the meet and back again. Sometimes the hack to the meet would have been forty miles and that's before hunting started. What all this boils down to is the fact hunt terriers had to have a huge amount of stamina and short legged little ratters would not have managed such a heavy schedule, often,several times a week.
Back to the Rev. Russell, he bought his famous terrier Trump from a milkman in Acton ! He also much admired the terriers bred by Devonshire couple Tom and Rubie French and would have appear "to have bought a number from that couple. The Rev. also admits, in one passage of a book I have,French often used Beagle, Whippet and Bulldog to add, correct or enhance various characteristics he desired in his terriers". So no breed there then, just a type.
Having researched, over a period of many years, the life and times of Jack Russell and read most of what is written about him I feel I have a fairish idea of the man and his character. Unlike many hunting parsons of his era he did not neglect his flock and, although not a rich man, he was kind to those in greater need than himself. Particularly so with the local gipsies. I have no doubt he would not have been impressed with all the fuss about a group of terriers masquerading under his name. Furthermore and, perhaps the greatest irony of all, the Rev. Russell was not named Jack, his name was,in fact, John.