Some of you may know I modeled the little terrier in the Redclaw Origins series, Captain, after my own Jack Russell. I introduced the dog late in Bishop Takes Knight, where he had a small but important role. In Bishop’s Gambit, releasing Oct 6, 2020, he has a much larger part to play.
What you might not know is how close my representation of the mischievous terrier might be. Aside from Captain’s “special ability” as seen in the books (and I don’t want to say too much about that, as it’s a bit of a spoiler if you haven’t read them), I pretty much cribbed the fictional Captain’s behavior from the real one.
I’d never been a “small dog” person before Captain came into my life. I’d grown up with big dogs, and as soon as I moved out on my own, I got a German Shepherd puppy and have had Shepherds ever since. I like the feeling of security that comes with a big dog, as well as the hardiness that means such dogs will enjoy the same kinds of activities that we do.
But when my mom decided late in life that she absolutely had to have a dog to replace my late father’s spaniel, we tried dissuading her until it became clear she intended to go out and get the first dog she came across, whether it was appropriate for her or not. A friend of mine told me about Captain at the shelter where she worked. He was a great little dog, she said. I should go look at him.
I wasn’t convinced. Still, he had the advantage of being a middle-aged small dog and not the two-year-old pit bull my mother had been eyeing on Craigslist, so I drove out to the foster home to see him. I found out he’d been in the system for almost a year. No one wanted him, it would seem.
The foster mom walked me down to the kennels out back through a large flock of chickens that came running up, obviously expecting to be fed. As she put Captain on a flexi-lead and released him from the kennel, he shot out to the end of the twenty-five foot leash, dashing through the chickens and sending them squawking. I fully expected to see him take down a hen and pop up with a mouthful of feathers, but he just… scattered them. After a gleeful rush through the birds, he came back to the foster mom, his little tail wagging so fast it was a blur. Like in the picture here.
We went up to the house, where I visited with him a bit. He was personable and relatively calm, considering that he’d been kenneled for the past year. I liked him a lot, and realized then there was a very good chance that since I’d inherit whatever dog my mother chose, it might as well be him.
That initial impression proved to be emblematic of the dog himself. An ecstatic burst of joy, followed by relative calm. When two years later, I did indeed inherit him, I worried about introducing him into my already animal-dense household. Terriers frequently did not distinguish between wildlife and cats. We had a LOT of cats. Also, Sampson was still with us then, and I didn’t know how a 20 pound dog would get along with a 100 pound one.
The day I brought him home, a couple of feral cats were hanging out on the porch as I approached with Captain on leash. I wound the lead around my hand, prepared to pull him back should he show any sign of aggression, but Captain merely glanced at the wary cats and sat down to look up at me as if to say, “Oh look. Cats. Can we go into the house now?”
I needn’t have worried. He meshed into our household as though he’d always been there.
But I was determined to rehome him. We already had too many animals. We didn’t need a second dog. I tried four times to place Captain in another home, and each time, the arrangement fell through. After the last failure, I stalked down to the pet store and put his name on a tag with our contact information. He was our dog now.
And what an adventure that proved to be. I’ll never forget the day I left a sandwich on the kitchen table to get something to drink, and in a flash, Captain bounced from the floor to the chair to the tabletop, snatched up the sandwich, and leapt off the table to run down the hall with it. Sampson, the Shepherd, looked at me with a bug-eyed expression as if to say, “That’s allowed??”
We discovered the long stretch of being kenneled made it nearly impossible to board him, but the first time we left him with a pet-sitter (an experienced dog owner and horse trainer), she called in a panic because he’d stolen an entire plate of sausages when her back was turned. Far too much fat for a little dog to consume, as it could have triggered a life-threatening case of pancreatitis, so I had to walk her through inducing him to vomit. Had she not been successful in this act, she would have had to take him to the emergency clinic. She refers to him as “Sausage Plate” to this day.
I did warn her about the food-snatching behavior…
He proved to be so chill with the cats, I jokingly said he couldn’t be a real terrier, only one day when I had the dogs loose in the fields, they plunged in the bushes after something. Moments later, the foul stench of skunk filled the air. I shrieked at the dogs, who came charging out of the bushes wiping their faces on the ground. Sampson clearly had enough. He came back to me on the run.
Captain, however, gritted his teeth and barreled back in for the kill.
Just now, when I took the dogs out for the final elimination break of the evening, something scrabbled away from the door as we came out of the house. The motion-sensitive light came on, catching the undulating movement of something about the size of a possum. It moved like a ground hog, and yet it was much slimmer and with a narrower head. I thought it was a groundhog, only they aren’t supposed to be active at night, and there was something about it that made the hair on the back of my neck rise. Both dogs alerted on it, but it was Captain who nearly pulled me off the porch to go after it. It’s astonishing how strong a 20 pound dog can be.
Just then, one of the feral cats saw us and came trotting up. Now you’d think a terrier in full-blown attack mode might redirect onto the cat (and I made sure the cat stayed back until I was sure it was safe) but nope. Captain knew the difference between “our family” and “vermin.”
It’s this dichotomy between sweet, loving little dog and “show me the vermin!” killer terrier that made me immortalize Captain in the Redclaw series. Okay, it might have something to do with the fact that I am besotted with this little dog, and wanted part of him to be with me forever. But seriously, the night and day change in behavior when he spots a rabbit or a squirrel versus how he behaves the rest of the time is like watching someone flip a switch. Small wonder I couldn’t resist putting him into my stories. He’s just so darn stinking cute, and then there’s this vicious little killer lurking within. He steals food, digs holes in the yard, rolls in stuff so smelly it requires an IMMEDIATE bath, and is a little escape artist, too. He weasels his way into bed with us and has to be persuaded to share space with the humans. Every morning he turns over on his back and wriggles in place, grinding little white dog hairs into the comforter.
And I think he’s pretty darn near perfect.