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PJ, My Trusty Jack Russell

Michael Hillman

When I announced that I was getting married, my friends all concurred with my selection, my mother breathed a sigh of relief, my sisters sent Audrey their condolences and my dog ran away from home. 

PJ, my Jack Russell Terror, was given to me as a practical joke (thus his name). Much to the chagrin of my girlfriend, he quickly became my companion of choice. As a bachelor's dog, he lived the life of Riley. The first two years of his life were one adventure after another. I can't begin to count the number of times I would return home from work and find a note from the local police on my door that PJ was in their 'custody'. 

When not serving time, his days were spent with my youngest brother who spent his college vacation taking PJ to parks where he would tie a string to him, troll him out and reel him in, usually with two or three girls in tow. Late afternoons were spent playing with other dogs at the barn where I boarded my horse or running in the country as I exercised my horse. At night, he slept on my bed, the couch or whatever suited him. Life was good; life was grand. 

The best part of PJ's day was dinner. Completely devoid of any knowledge of animal nutritional requirements, PJ always shared my meals, be it hamburgers and fries, cereal, bean and ham soup, cereal, or Planters mixed nuts and ice cream - the usual bachelor's fare. While bachelor life was good for PJ, it had its drawbacks for me. After a year of freedom I stumbled upon my wife in a parking lot. The details of which I will not bore you with, but suffice it to say, Audrey, a veterinary nurse, did not look very kindly upon PJ’s daily cuisine. 

Soon after we began to date she surprised me and PJ while we were ‘chowing down’ a can of mixed nuts in front of the TV. The lecture went on for almost fifteen minutes. When PJ and I looked at her with a 'what's your point expression,' she stomped out, flinging a 'go ahead, don't listen to me, kill your dog' over her shoulder. (I think she was upset because she had to compete with PJ for the cashews.) 

Well much to PJ's chagrin, our lives as bachelors came to an end. I'm not sure who had a harder time adjusting, Audrey, a two-cat owner, who hated Jack Russells, or PJ who thought chasing cats was pretty good sport. In an effort to get the marriage off to the right start, in our wedding vows, Audrey agreed to take me, PJ and my horse, I agreed to take her and her two cats. 

In spite of the vows, things got off to a shaky start when Audrey discovered PJ sitting on 'her' seat as we left the wedding reception. (I hadn't had the heart to tell PJ that he had been demoted to the back seat.) In spite of her vows, many a day in the first few months of the marriage ended with Audrey suggesting PJ go live with my brother Bill, "PJ's favorite person". 

In the end things worked out and harmony and tranquility prevailed ... well maybe not, but a truce between the two has held for almost eight years with only occasional violations (usually precipitated by Audrey) requiring my immediate intervention to save PJ's life.

I've always heard cat lovers described as sensitive, caring, and, compassionate. Based upon close observation, I believe parochial to be a more accurate adjective. I quickly found out that what was OK for Audrey’s cats was taboo for PJ, such as sleeping on the bed, sitting on the couch, eating cat food, or picking cat fights. No matter how logical the argument, Audrey always sided in favor of the cats. 

Audrey's "because you can train dogs but not cats," argument quickly wore thin. I always felt I had done a pretty good job obedience training PJ. On a clear day, in eye contact and within 100 feet, I have a 50/50 chance he'll come within 5 minutes when called, not bad for a Jack Russell if I do say so. Audrey on the other hand can simply call out one of her cat's names and even though they might be a mile away, they'll come running like a bat out of hell. Needless to say, I couldn't get the cats to listen to me if I was the last person on earth with a can opener. 

Obedience to established rules, like many things on our farm, only apply when Audrey is around. The minute she's out the door, by general decree, all rules are suspended. Dogs for example are not allowed upstairs or anywhere else in the house, with the exception of my study. But the sound of Audrey's car heading down the street is almost always followed by the sound of paws headed to explore the unknown. Much effort is made on jumping up and down all the furniture and on boldly going where no dog has gone before. While I won't swear to it, each of the dogs seems to wear a gleeful expression that they know they’re getting away with something. The cats meanwhile frantically go into hiding and patiently await Audrey’s return and with her, the return to normalcy. 

Before ‘our’ marriage to Audrey, only emergencies like getting kicked by a horse, falling out the window of the car, picking a fight with a pit bull, or growling at Audrey, initiated a visit to a vet. That all changed after we got married. As the head nurse of the University of Pennsylvania School of large animal veterinary medicine, she seemed pretty knowledgeable about things like regular shots and all. However, shots for rabies and tetanus were quickly followed by ones for Tibetan Valley Fever, Congo Rain Rot, Amazon Sleeping Sickness, and others too numerous to mention. When I questioned if she was trying to turn him into a walking pin cushion, she insisted all the shots were necessary, however, she's yet to satisfactorily explain those payments she received from several pharmaceutical companies.

Prior to moving to Emmitsburg, Audrey and I lived in a small apartment, which put a natural constraint on the number of animals we could have. All bets were off, however, once we bought our farm. Much to my pleasure, the dog to cat ratio was quickly balanced with the addition of Emma, a German Shepherd/Husky mix. Audrey however couldn't stand equality and within weeks allowed herself to be 'adopted' by a stray cat, completely upsetting the balance of power, and setting off a growth in the farm's pet inventory that has only recently stabilized at five cats and three dogs. 

In addition to our indoor pets, Audrey feels compelled to feed every wild bird that strays across the Mason-Dixon Line. As a result we now have an impressive song bird population, much to the glee of the resident cats. 

Now one of my hidden reasons for marrying a veterinary nurse was to reduce my veterinary bills, which between PJ and my horse, ranked second only to the cost of dating Audrey. The addition of five cats, a new horse, and two dogs blew that strategy completely out of the water. Before Audrey, I was lucky if I could remember who my vet was, now I'm not only on a first name basis with them, but with their janitorial staff as well. It seems every time I turn around, someone is at the vet’s. I knew I was in trouble when Gary Kubala started to schedule appointments for us two months in advance and the Emmitsburg Veterinary Hospital was projecting future staff pay raises on our projected pet population growth. 

I always thought dogs were pretty easy to get along with, as well as pretty useful. A good size bone in the morning and they're out of sight all day. In addition, a good barking fit is the standard greeting to all visitors to the farm. But cats, all they seemed to do was eat, sleep, scratch your best furniture, and cough up hairballs.  

To Audrey's credit however, she's turned out some pretty nice cats, and yes, they are her cats. I tried to adopt one once but it defected to Audrey when it realized she was the food person. Much to my surprise, all her cats have rather distinct personalities, each demands different levels of attention, but all receive the same level of affection. All her cats chase balls, which PJ refuses to do. All play with toys and all 'answer' her when she speaks to them. In a lot of ways, Audrey's cats act a lot more like dogs then cats! 

As time has passed, I've grown quite fond of the menagerie of animals Audrey has gathered about us and the endless amount of humor and affection they generate. As for PJ, like most ex-bachelors, he's grown accustomed to a settled, regulated life, i.e. he's grown fat. As the 'special dog', he still accompanies me almost everywhere, sticking by my side every minute I'm home. Recognizing Audrey's more reliable than I am in the food department, he's even had the good judgment to cease growling at her. 

Much to the shame of the Jack Russell community however, PJ has stopped objecting to living with cats. He now allows them to cross his path, drink out of his water bowl, and has even been seen sleeping with kittens curled up against him. But, like a true Jack Russell, a sharp eye is always kept out for Audrey. When she's not around, the cat food bowls are quickly emptied and the minute I open a can of mixed nuts, he's a puppy again, chowing then down as fast as ever...especially the cashews!

PJ passed away living life to the fullest.  In Oct of 1999 PJ was diagnosed with liver cancer and given six weeks to live.  He ignored the vet and continued to live life to the fullest: joining Michael in his daily workout in the fields with his horse, sneaking cat food, and yes, munching down on nuts.  

On Nov 3, 2000,  on returning from a short hack, PJ laid down in his favorite spot in the sun for a short nap.  He never woke up.  He was 17 years old.  

Read: The Last of the First Ones: 'PJ'

Read other stories by Michael Hillman