Bounce My Jack Russell Terrier
by Kevin Thomas
In Tribute to a Loyal Hunting Companion, 15 January 2001 - 22 July 2009
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”
– Dr. Seuss
Bounce my Jack Russell terrier disliked vets, although it was without malice; he was just distrusting of them and not understanding full well, that they were there for his health betterment. July 2009 was a bad month for Bounce and I, we’d been hunting buddies for nearly nine years. I seldom went anywhere without him, my late father used to refer to him as my ‘shadow’. If he wasn’t on my hunting rig load tray, he was upfront in the cab, or he was inside our house or out in the yard shadowing me, every place I went. Next to my side of the bed, Bounce had his own armchair, blanket covered and with a bowl of water alongside of it. He had a habit of fixing his hazel eyes on me and holding my gaze. Brenda my wife called it the “Bounce stare” – he held it unwavering and it was always me who broke eye contact first because I had things to do, or maybe I was trying to drive – eye contact for dogs is important.
His Bounce stare was a favourite when he and I left to go on safari, because for kilometres he’d lie on my hunting jacket on the passenger seat and give me the ‘stare’. When readying ourselves for departure on safari, his excitement levels grew as we loaded the truck with my hunting gear. When I opened the gun safe to remove my rifles, Bounce nearly went berserk and his wagging docked tail just about shook his hindquarters off. Throughout the period of my packing, he liked to supervise and it was very important to him that as I packed our hunting gear he be allowed to carefully smell and give approval of certain items – my rifles, binoculars, camera bag, shooting sticks, ammo belt, sheath knife, gun bags etc. As soon as he saw me place his food and water bowl onto the rig, and push his folded blanket into his “sleeping” corner in the load tray, he knew we were off on safari.
On 22 July Dr. Nick Fisher the local vet, examined an extremely uncomfortable and bloated Bounce on the surgery table, whilst I held my struggling and mega-stressed friend. Two weeks prior a veterinary colleague of Fisher’s, Dr. Leon de Bruin had sedated, then x-rayed Bounce and taken blood samples. His prognosis was not good – enlarged heart, shifted liver, suspected cancerous growth behind the heart, suspected intestinal blockage etc. A few days later when the blood tests came back, they also indicated serious liver problems.
Despite all of these negative test results I did not want to have Bounce put down, he’d been my loyal companion and safari buddy for too long although he seemed to sense that our time together was drawing to a close. At night during those last weeks, Bounce begged through subtle body language, to be allowed to sleep next to me on the bed. Back during March/ April he’d developed what Bren and I jokingly referred to as “Jack Russell talk”. It was a series of whimpers, snorts, quiet grunts and a variety of other soft vocal noises, none of which gave any indication of pain. With hindsight, I now think it was Bounce’s way of trying to let us know that he was terminally ill, and knew it.
During early April of this year, I was hunting with a regular client and friend. Bill Haslett already knew Bounce from his first African safari in 2008, but it was on our April hunt that I first became a little perturbed by Bounce’s bloated abdomen, I knew he wasn’t fat from lack of exercise or overeating, but never the less masked my concerns about his health by choosing to tease Bounce about being a little fat around the waistline.
By May into June, my four-legged companion continued to deteriorate and slow down, and aside from his bloating abdomen, he also had to contend with a large abscess that developed on his upper lip, caused by a broken off jointed cactus spine that had embedded itself in the lip whilst we were hunting. It eventually worked its way out with a lot of other septic muck and Bounce lost a patch of hair around the wound, although by the time he had reached the end of the road, it was growing back.
Dr. Nick Fisher is a compassionate vet who lives on his small farm some way out of our village, he’s a sort of Dr. James Herriot type, living and working in the Eastern Cape countryside. Nick examined Bounce thoroughly and then quietly advised me that there was nothing more we could do, Bounce was indeed terminally ill, suffering, and would not last long. His recommendation was that Bounce be put down and despite my having known that it would come to this, I was extremely emotional and still holding my struggling little buddy who was trying so desperately to get off the stainless steel surgery table, managed to whisper three choked words, “Let’s do it” – Nick understanding my anguish, said he’d first tranquilise Bounce and suggested once he’d done that, I take Bounce out into the garden and let him run around doing dog things until the tranquiliser took effect, which would be in about 15 minutes.
After the tranquiliser had been given, I carried Bounce out into the garden and put him down. He immediately took off, smelling, cocking his leg against shrubs and trees and then used his hind legs to kick grass and leaves flying with his old style “attitude”. He thoroughly explored Nick’s front garden whilst we stood in the sun, watching him, and making small talk.
After the allotted 15 minutes Bounce started to weary so I crouched down on my haunches and called the little guy, and as fast as his tired body could move, he ran towards me, trusting hazel eyes already droopy and then with his last bit of energy piled into my arms for a final long hug. Then holding him tight against my chest, whilst breathing in his familiar Jack Russell smell I returned to the surgery and held him in my arms whilst Nick administered the intravenous that would free Bounce of his pain, and help him on his way across the Rainbow Bridge.
When it was finally all over, Nick carried my canine friend’s limp form out to the rig and helped me lay Bounce on my hunting jacket, his favourite ‘comfy’. After I’d carefully closed Bounce’s eyes I took what seemed like a long drive home, the dirt road to my front a mere blur through my burning eyes. Throughout the trip I kept my left hand on Bounce’s head giving his ears a final rub, whilst I chatted to his still form about the good times we’d had on safari.
We laid Bounce to rest, wrapped in his blanket under a line of trees and brush along the edge of our garden, and as Lloyd a Xhosa tribesman who’d once worked for me as a skinner, dug the grave, tears trickled down his ebony cheeks, he’d known Bounce well.
If we stand at our upstairs office window, we can look down onto the grave, which we bordered with a low green wooden picket fence that had been lying unused behind the garage. As dog lovers and in recognition of his loyalty, we also placed a small rough hewn cross with an inscription, BOUNCE 15 January 2001 – 22 July 2009 and an epitaph Hunting Buddy & Loyal Friend. Of an evening, I can go out into the garden and with a glass of wine sit on the bench and looking down the slope towards the grave, reminisce.
In the early mornings we often hear the liquid and melodious notes of a Cape Robin Chat singing in the brush near the grave, and the other morning as I sat at the bedroom window drinking my first coffee of the day, I initially heard the Robin Chat, then saw it flit out of the brush and alight on the top of Bounce’s wooden cross where it sat whilst heralding the day. Often too, and throughout the day, we hear an ubiquitous red-eyed dove, known to the Xhosa as Indlasidudu, sitting high up in the avocado tree that casts its shadow over the grave, the dove’s call is far more fitting for a hunting terrier’s spirit in the sky, for it sounds not unlike a question being asked, “Who’s that with a two-two? Who’s that with a two-two?” – In Africa we call the .22 calibre a two two and not a twenty-two as is the case in the USA.
Some might think me as having gone overboard, what with Bounce’s grave and all, but I care not because I consider myself through and through a dog man, and there is that old adage that we only ever get one really good dog in our lives. For my part, I’ve been blessed with three, one a yellow lab cross called Shandy, and the other a re-homed adult yellow-lab called Brutus, then Bounce.
All of them lived for the hunt and during the late eighties Shandy would ultimately pay with his life when a bushpig boar got the better of him. Brutus died of old age and a broken heart after I very sadly had to leave him behind, when I went to hunt outside of Rhodesia. I don’t know if I’ll ever get another dog as good as any of them, and right now I’m in no real hurry.
In celebration of Bounce’s life though, I need to go back nearly nine years in time, to when he and I first met. He was an 8-week old pup and his focus certainly wasn’t on my intrusion into the room, it was on a kitten he was chasing round the breeder’s coffee table in the lounge. Two days earlier I’d phoned the breeder after seeing a For Sale ad in the local newspaper for some 8-week old Jack Russell pups from working stock. When I’d phoned, I was informed that there was only one pup left out of a litter of six – a boy. I booked him and told the seller that we’d call by the next day after a board meeting. Although the pup didn’t have any papers, the guy on the other end of the line assured me that he was from good working stock and the longer legged variety, which is what I was after.
Early next morning Brenda and I left Tsolwana Game Reserve for our meeting in Bisho, and once done with that, we found our way to the Jack Russell breeder’s address. At first glance I realised why the other pups were all gone and the little guy chasing the kitten round the coffee table was unsold. His lower and upper eyelids were pink and there were no brown hair patches covering his eyes – not a good trait in a working Jack Russell in Africa’s harsh sunlight, because it can lead to skin cancer. Some breeders would have culled a pup with pink eyelids, but I figured that seeing as it wasn’t true albinism, I wouldn’t hold it against the feisty little guy so handed the seller R350.00 and then crouched down and called the cat chaser. He leapt into my hands all pink tongue, wet nose, soft ears and excitement – done deal.
We named the Jack Russell Bounce 2 after a young Jack Russell pup of mine in Zimbabwe that had accidentally been run over in a safari camp by a vehicle. It sometimes happens when small dogs in hunting camps run around amongst hunting rigs. Despite the name Bounce 2, we soon dropped the 2 and he just became another Bounce. En-route home he was sitting on Brenda’s lap whilst I drove and he soon got motion sickness and puked milky puppy food over her clothes. By the time we’d eventually reached Tsolwana after stopping to change a flat, Bounce was a thoroughly unhappy and homesick little chap. His first night at home with us was spent on a blanket in a box, placed on the floor next to my side of the bed, and he spent most of the night whimpering and trying to leap up onto the bed – but Brenda had drawn the line on that one very early in our marriage – Bounce just had to learn it, and he soon did.
Our employees by way of game scouts, trackers and skinners were Xhosa and they couldn’t get the word Bounce right so they called our new pup ‘Dance’ although when they said the word dance, it sort of rhymed with Bounce.
Virtually straight after I’d purchased Bounce, he started accompanying me into the field on a daily basis, although much of his time between eight and twelve weeks old was spent being carried by a tracker, before getting put down to smell shot game. By five months old he knew all the bush scents in the game reserve and was familiar with the smell of blood and shot animals. Whenever I was culling springbok and impala he was with me, and he was always on the back of the rig when we loaded culled game, grabbing a hind leg below the knee and fighting the limb for all he was worth. At this early age too, he was introduced to warthog, both dead and alive, and for some unknown reason developed a hate towards them that lasted a lifetime, maybe Bounce thought they were just too damn ugly.
During this early part of Bounce’s life he also began to meet his first safari clients, and kitted out in a harness attached to a leash when we hunted, he used to follow in our wake with a tracker. Each time an animal was shot, I had the tracker take Bounce some ways along the back trail, even if the animal was a clean kill, then let Bounce ‘follow up’ to the fallen trophy. After successfully ‘finding’ it we heaped praise on him and were always amused to see him fight a hind leg and lay claim to the trophy.
Right from the day I first collected Bounce he started to show a singularly good trait, that being to keep his nose on the ground, he never followed anything visually, he used his nose and we encouraged this by collecting blood at the skinning shed and laying a false trail through the bush. For Bounce this simple exercise became a game and to ensure he wasn’t merely following the trackers human scent, I had two guys walk with a drag by way of a bit of gut, from a recently killed animal, or similar attached to the centre of a 10m length of rope carried with a tracker at either end of the rope.
Our time at Tsolwana was temporary because we’d used it as a chance to find our feet after having moved from Zimbabwe back to South Africa in early 2000, and after seventeen months we bought a house in the 1820 British Settler hamlet of Bathurst and departing Tsolwana moved into our new home and ran our small hunting safari business from there.
On every safari we shared, Bounce continued to improve as a hunting companion and tracker, he also learnt to love, and at times, maybe over pamper our clients. He also remembered clients’ even if they only came by during alternate years and once we’d got from airport Arrivals out to the rig in the car park, Bounce loved to say hello with a wildly wagging tail, and then carefully smell all the gun boxes and gear.
Once the hunt had commenced, if an animal was wounded and Bounce shown the blood then asked to help find it, he went out of his way to locate the missing trophy, and it was probably at this early stage of his life that he set the ball rolling towards what nine years hence would lead to his departing mother earth. Sometimes his over enthusiasm on the hunt would see him lose the plot a little bit, and I’d later tell him his grade was only a C- and not good enough, but normally I’d let Bounce know he was a B+ through and through.
Bounce could do nothing at half-pace, everything he did had to be done at the fastest speed his Jack Russell legs could carry him, and more often than not he was subjecting his body to abnormal extremes just to try and please his human friends. Quite simply he was possessed of too much enthusiasm, and his excitement levels probably hovered around the highest levels possible in a Jack Russell. On some days, by the end of the chase, his pink tongue looked as if it was the length of his body as it hung out of his panting mouth. As he grew older and the dull arthritic pains that come with aging made themselves felt, Bounce took to resting one hind leg as he moved around, finding that unless a turn of speed was called for, he was just as mobile on three legs as on four.
As the hunting seasons grew into years, Bounce proved time and again the importance of a hunter having absolute trust in a dog’s ability to locate wounded and lost game. No matter how much I felt the need to doubt his nose, I learnt to let him be without any unnecessary distraction aside from a few words of encouragement at his initial point of release on the spoor. His first really superb feat, and probably his best ever, was locating and then staying with a wounded mountain reedbuck after a lengthy follow-up.
Leonora Gilbert was the client, a hardy adventurous girl from British Colombia who just loved hunting. She’d bought a donated hunt of mine at the British Colombia SCI Chapter banquet and had arrived on safari after a nursing stint in Saudi Arabia. Leonora was a superb shot and all of her trophies were clean kills. She used my 7 x 57mm Mauser Obendorf and by the time that we got round to stalking her mountain reedbuck, perhaps she had become a little too laid back. It was the easiest shot of the safari with the trophy standing broadside on and stationary at about eighty paces, the wind in our favour and the reedbuck unawares of our presence.
Leonora also had a solid rest by way of a deadfall and although she dropped the shot, the luckless reedbuck’s body language and behaviour conveyed to us that it had been hit hard. Mountain reedbuck are gregarious animals and the mixed herd of males and females, bomb-shelled in all directions before the sound of the shot had even died away. We were hunting a southern facing mountain slope, thickly wooded, eroded and given to open patches of thinly wooded pasture on the lower slopes. Her trophy reedbuck dropped to the shot, tried to raise itself up, dropped back again and lay still.
We strolled across towards it, my compliments regards her good shooting were still hanging in the air when the reedbuck leapt up and departed the scene. It ran down into a heavily wooded donga and was immediately lost to sight. When we reached where it had been lying, all that I could find was a speck of blood and a tiny patch of gut fluid. It did not look good, as by this time the late afternoon was on the wane, with a hard blowing southeaster coming off the Indian Ocean. Twane, my skinner, put in an appearance with the young Bounce pulling excitedly on his harness and yipping in a high-pitched voice. We cast around but found no more blood or gut fluid, the thick carpet of grass made tracking difficult, down in the red clay donga, we found a few fresh tracks, but no blood sign.
Despite the dog’s youth and inexperience I decided to release him, as he seemed extremely excited and positive. No sooner was his harness off, than he disappeared into the donga, reappeared on the opposite side yipped and yapped once or twice and was gone. We tried to follow but the bush along the donga was too thick, every once in a while we heard the dog in the distance before the pumping wind drowned out all other sound.
There was little that we could do except move slowly in the direction we assumed the dog had gone, and worried that I would lose him, I sent the youthful Twane on ahead. Once, we found a small surface puddle of brown muddy water, fresh wet dog tracks exited it and on the opposite side were superimposed over those of a reedbuck. We could not tell if it was the wounded one or not. It was at this point that given the lateness of the day I decided to take Leonora back to the truck, so we moved off at a right angle to the direction that the dog was going in.
Eventually we reached the truck and as the sun began to settle on the ridgeline behind us, Twane came walking through the bush with the excited foam and blood flecked Bounce running along ahead of him. The dog’s tongue was just about dragging along the ground, but his intelligent hazel eyes glistened with excitement. He was clearly wishing he could tell us about what he had just been up to!
Very quickly, we placed the pup back in his harness, attached the leash and encouraged him to lead off back in the direction from whence he had just come. Twane had met the dog making his way back towards the truck and returned with him, meeting up with us as we too had arrived at the truck. Bounce seemed to understand what was expected of him and was soon pulling Twane back towards the brush covered donga. Reaching an open patch of sandy ground we found where the pup had closed with and had a slight tussle with the wounded reedbuck. Bits of gut content lay scattered around and the spoor of both dog and antelope, told what had occurred before the reedbuck led off once more with the dog in hot pursuit.
Inside of about fifty paces from the site of the scuffle, the dog took us straight down into the donga and towards an overhang covered with protruding roots. The reedbuck was standing underneath the overhang in a muddy pool, exhausted and with much of its gut hanging out. Leonora hastily put it out of its misery.
There is little doubt that had we not been with a suitable tracker dog, we would never have found that reedbuck. It would have proven an almost impossible task until perhaps after a few seasons, a herdsman gathering cattle may have found the reedbuck skeleton lying beneath the overhang with little to indicate how it had originally arrived there.
Another antelope species that Bounce loved to help locate if it was wounded, was the diminutive steenbok and when he was released on one, he’d tear off along the blood trail, his predominantly white body appearing and disappearing in the low scrub as he cast for it. Once he had closed with it, he always went in between the luckless antelopes hind legs and grabbing the soft underbelly anchored the animal until we reached it.
Bounce seemed to accord animals a special form of respect if they were extremely large relative to his small size. If for example he was on the back of the rig and I stopped to look at a white rhino or giraffe, he’d also be staring at it with his neck outstretched and his eyes unblinking, and if I quietly said, “Bounce what’s that big dog?” he’d quickly look at me then immediately revert back to gazing straight at the animal we were watching. Buffalo didn’t faze him and I think he just thought they were ordinary cattle. Not having hunted in Zimbabwe with me, Bounce never saw elephant so I didn’t have the chance to watch what his reaction would have been upon seeing them.
Of all the dogs I’ve hunted with, not including bird dogs, Bounce had an uncanny way of waiting for the shot, and up until that point he didn’t make any noise aside from a few excited yips whenever we stopped to open a gate. If he was sitting alongside me, and my client was settled on the shooting sticks, Bounce would focus his all on the direction the rifle barrel was pointing, even if he couldn’t see the quarry. Throughout this pre-shot anticipatory phase his taut body would constantly shiver with excitement but he always remained totally silent. However, once the shot had been fired he couldn’t contain his excitement any longer and was always overcome by a series of hysterical barks. His way of saying, “Let me get at it”. As soon as he was unleashed, he’d immediately go quiet and take off like greased lightening towards where he felt the trophy would be.
With time and constant exposure to hunting, Bounce learnt to cast very effectively across a 180° front, always using his nose either held close to the ground or occasionally, briefly up in the air trying to catch a ‘whiff’ of scent molecules. Whenever he approached a shot animal, he did so from behind and on his last safari before his death, actually grabbed high up and hung onto the tail of a wounded black wildebeest that still had plenty of fight in it.
Bounce and my hunt experiences were many, and each has a special place in my memory, but even away from the hunt he had his little eccentricities like firmly believing that when he was on the back of my rig, he was a Rottweiler! Every dog we passed on the road was subjected to a torrent of verbal Jack Russell abuse, irrespective of its size. It was as if Bounce was challenging it to get into the back of the truck with him, so he could whip it. He never forgot where he’d seen a dog, and even if we drove past the same spot months later he’d bark just until we’d gone by.
Once as I was pulling up outside a shop, Bounce cussed a big Boerbul (a large much feared South African breed), that was sauntering along the road verge but as soon as I stopped the truck and got out, he went silent and stared at the approaching Boerbul as if to say, “I’ve really screwed up this time, and it looks like it’s me who is going to get the whipping”. The Boerbul ambled across and with a dead silent Bounce staring down at it from on the back of the truck, casually cocked a leg and peed on a rear wheel before going on its way.
No sooner had I driven off than Bounce nearly went insane with anger and once more cussed it as loudly as he could for daring to pee on his wheel. On another occasion Brian Spradling and I had been hunting in the Northern Cape Karoo and we’d just packed up to move back to the Eastern Cape. Bounce was running around doing his last minute pre-departure Jack Russell things when his nose took him across to a fenced off part of the lodge garden. Behind the diamond mesh wire was an ill disciplined 18-month old Boerbul and when it saw Bounce it charged across to the wire and tried to get at him. With a complete air of nonchalance, Bounce cocked his leg, saturated the Boerbul’s face then sprinted across to be lifted onto the rig. Spradling just about bust a gut and years later we were still teasing Bounce and laughing about it when on safari.
Trust too, is an important ingredient in human and animal relationships and despite Bounce having bonded with me from his puppy days, his complete trust in me continued to grow with the passing of the seasons, and at times I wondered if I could fully measure up to his expectations. When I un-harnessed him on the truck, he’d wait for me to move around to the tailgate and call, “Come jump Bounce!” before charging at full-throttle towards me, then nimbly use the top of the tailgate as a launch pad to throw himself in a controlled leap at my chest, knowing that I’d catch him. The further back I stood the more he enjoyed the game.
Whilst on the more humorous side of life with Bounce, perhaps his most embarrassing moment came about a year ago. Brenda and I went to visit friends who live on a smallholding and they have a young very boisterous Jack Russell of the wire-haired type. When we arrived at their house I decided to leave Bounce on the truck wearing his harness, with the end of his leash tied to a gun rack. A little while after we’d entered their house, I stood up and looked out of the lounge window and there was Bounce hanging in his harness with just the tips of his hind toes touching the ground, his forequarters held up by the harness. There was a look of acute humility and embarrassment on his face, because as he hung suspended and gently twirling, the young Jack Russell – who was also a male – was taking full advantage of smelling Bounce, the supposed Alpha male’s nether regions, and Bounce couldn’t do anything about it!
After I’d unhitched him and placed him back on the truck, he didn’t know where to hide his face and for weeks after, if Brenda and I teased him about it he looked terribly ashamed for having made such a fauxpax.
Bounce was about as fine a friend as I’ve ever had, and whether he was sitting alongside us as we glassed the valley’s and mountain slopes, or was sleeping on my hunting jacket on my bed when we were on safari, or warning us with a gentle growl of an unseen animal’s approach, I will never forget the nearly nine special years he shared with me, and gave to me. One day perhaps, when I too, cross the Rainbow Bridge we’ll pick up where we left off and until then, I can only say “Hamba Kakuhle (Go Well) Bounce boy!”