"Terriers of indeterminate ancestry, old-fashioned, working Sealyhams, and shortlegged terriers have all come to be known as Jack Russells. The reason for this is that there has grown up a cult—and a snob cult at that—which makes the possession of a 'Russell' terrier something of a status symbol."
—JACK RUSSELL AND HIS TERRIERS, BY DAN RUSSELL
"True terriers they were, but differing from the present show dogs as the wild eglantine differs from a garden rose."
Twenty-three breeds of terrier are recognized by the American Kennel Club. The Airedale is the biggest and, alphabetically, the first; the cairn is the smallest and the West Highland white is the last. (The Yorkshire terrier is officially in the toy group.) There are Australian, Welsh and Scottish terriers from abroad. an American Staffordshire terrier here at home and Border terriers for those who prefer neutrality. There are fox terriers and bullterriers, soft-coated Wheaton terriers and wirehaired miniature Schnauzers. They are a diverse and scrappy group. But there is one terrier virtually in a class by itself, because it is most emphatically not recognized by the American Kennel Club or the Kennel Club of its native Great Britain. It is the Jack Russell terrier.
"The first time I saw one," says an AKC official, "I thought, 'That dog's a mistake.' Esthetically, it hit my eye wrong. They're an unrefined dog."
That's true. And Jack Russell people are delighted about it. In their eyes, unrefined and unrecognized is the same as unspoiled, and the last thing this world needs is another strain of spoiled, yapping terrier. "The snob appeal of the Jack Russell," says Captain Arthur Haggerty, an authority on dogs and dog owners, "is being able to say, 'We're not recognized by the AKC, and we don't want to be recognized.' A Jack Russell person is the type of person who would buy a Bentley instead of a Rolls-Royce. It's the exact same car without the grille, you know. They're so wealthy they don't have to worry about impressing anybody."
The grille, in this case, is a long pedigree and a trunk full of ribbons from the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show—the most glamorous of the shows put on by the American Kennel Club, and one which has been utterly dominated by terriers over the years. Jack Russell people are not interested in dog shows. They are interested in a working terrier, one that will dig to foxes and dislocate the spines of rats, while at the same time making a fine house pet. The knock against the AKC is that as soon as a breed achieves recognition, it is shown in prestigious events like the Westminster. As soon as it is shown, there are champions. As soon as there are champions, there are champions that are too valuable to "go to ground." The working qualities of the breed become secondary to physical conformation, and 10 generations later you have a lovely looking terrier that will flee before Rattus norwegicus.
"If these terriers ever become soft-bred show dogs," says one Jack Russell owner, "John Russell will turn in his grave."
"In the show-dog world there's too much backbiting," says Mrs. Harden L. Crawford III, president and founder of the Jack Russell Club of America, which she operates out of her home in Far Hills, N.J. "If a judge puts up somebody else's dog, you have to worry about whether to invite him over for dinner now. Jack Russells have come at a time when people don't want to be bothered by that anymore. The dog is what it was always meant to be: a super pet and a family dog, and if you want to hunt him, fine. The goal of the club is not to establish the Jack Russell as a pure breed, and certainly it isn't to gain acceptance by the American Kennel Club. We want to keep these terriers as they are: healthy in mind and body. To do that, somewhere along the line you're going to have to introduce some new blood."
That enlightened view is based on seeing what generations of inbreeding has done to such dogs as the St. Bernard, the Dalmatian, the Irish Setter and the bulldog. "Look what they did to the cocker," says Mrs. Gordon Little of Middleburg, Va., who has the largest Jack Russell breeding kennel in the U.S.—34 dogs. "Bred the brains right out of them." It is sort of the rallying cry of Jack Russell owners who are opposed to the American Kennel Club, a dog-lover's "Remember the Alamo!" Look what they did to the cocker!
In Great Britain, however, there is a strong faction within the Jack Russell Club that would like to see the breed gain Kennel Club acceptance. (Ironically, the Rev. John Russell, after whom the breed is named, himself was one of the founding fathers of the Kennel Club.) "Above all," the English breed standard states, "if the Jack Russell is to develop as a pure breed, then any further introduction of blood from any other breed must cease."