Recollect that the Almighty, who gave the dog to be companion of our pleasures and our toils, hath invested him with a nature noble and incapable of deceit.”- Sir Walter Scott, 1825
My beloved Cody died in my arms this week. He was put to sleep to relieve his pain from cancer and pancreatitis. He’s been sickly for a while, but these past weeks have been especially difficult as his gait slowed to a snail’s pace. By mid-week he’d given up “fooling” me with his stoicism. On Wednesday morning he let me know in no uncertain terms that he was ready to leave this earth.
Cody was a mutt (a combination of several terrier breeds) and a sturdy, stubborn little creature who would not give up a hunt or chase, or his intention to dig or enter a culvert. Cody was a vermin chaser and no mole, vole, mouse, chipmunk, squirrel, rabbit, or saddle back cricket was safe when he was lithe and young. I have saved many a wild creature over the years by restraining my determined little man.
Terriers in the Georgian era lived useful and utilitarian lives. Until people discovered their endearing house pet qualities, these dogs worked hard for a living. Work is perhaps not the best term for the actions of a dog that LOVED the chase and knew instinctively how to run down a rat, fox, groundhog, or mouse, or dig towards it and kill it with such efficiency that the prey never knew what struck it. 18th and 19th century farmers would have lost an entire season’s stored crop or chickens over the winter to vermin had it not been for the constant vigilance of their terriers. I have seen these dogs at work in a city alley (on a YouTube video). The alley was sealed on both sides as three domesticated terriers went into action. Instinct took over. Two flushed out a rat from the bottom of a garbage pile, while a third pounced on the fleeing rat on top of the pile where it emerged. The terrier lifted the rat by its neck and broke it in an instant. Terriers working in concert can kill 80 or more rats in one get go and still retain the sweet personality of a loving family pet.
As one modern article states:
Besides being efficient, death-by-dog is more humane for the rat and better for the environment than poison, say ratting proponents. Commonly used anticoagulant poisons thin the blood and cause internal bleeding. Rats die slow deaths, and they pass the poison on to anything that eats them, from wildlife to farm animals.” – Andy Wright, Modern Farmer: When Terriers Attack, 2014
Part of Cody’s mutt terrier mix was soft-coated wheaten terrier. In the 18th century, this breed of terriers was kept by poor Catholic Irish tenant farmers. These all-purpose dogs were bred to hunt, poach, stand guard, catch vermin, and be a companion. This latter trait made it a gentle dog (like my Cody) and much prized when the breed was shown in the show ring. Terriers are not only great companions, they are fearless, athletic and seldom lose sight of their goal. Whenever Cody saw a hole in the ground or an open culvert, he would poke his nose into the opening, regardless of what creature he might encounter.
In this oil painting entitled Terriers Rabbiting, for sale in the Rehs Calleries in NYC and painted by George Armfield (c.1808 – 1893) in 1860, one can see the patient determination of the three terriers as they wait for the rabbit to emerge. Note how their short legs provide them with a low center of gravity (which gives them a tremendous advantage in going to ground, digging, and pulling). They also have thick necks and stocky bodies that provide them with additional muscular strength, much like a stocky boxer.
My very domesticated Cody would patiently sit in front of a hole in my garden waiting for a vole to peek its head out. He would then strike with swift, deadly accuracy and leave me a present.
I would laugh as he chased creepy-looking saddelback crickets in zig zag patterns across my basement floor, eating their bodies but leaving the prickly legs for me to sweep up. With a terrier patrolling the house, one has few mouse, rat, spider, or cricket investations.
In the above painting, for sale at Richard Gardner Antiques, terriers are digging for rabbits, typical behavior for this breed. In Victorian times, terriers are more often depicted as lovable house pet breeds, although the second painting from Antiques Atlas will attest that even a cute fox terrier is an efficient killing machine of an animal its size.
Whenever Cody entered a culvert or dug a hole too deep for me to retrieve him easily, I would grab him by the base of his thick tail and pull him out. The Westie in the short video below was able to back out comfortably from a substantial hole all by itself.
Here’s a link to an image of an owner pulling a terrier by the tail. I’m sure it didn’t mind. My Cody certainly didn’t. Hah!
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