Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jess -- Summer of 1895

All those who knew Jess, save my brother John, are now dead and buried. It is through the urging of my granddaughter, that I am jotting down a few items concerning a wonderful dog.

I selected Jess from a litter of six when she was seven weeks old. A week later I brought her home. Her mother was a spaniel, her male parent a collie. As she grew up she took more and more like her sire in appearance, but more docile, and excelled him in intelligence and aptitude, although he was a very apt dog himself.

We had then a young tri-colored she cat, which we named Tricol. Jess and Tricol soon became very good friends. They played together and slept in the same place and were constant companions. In this way they passed their first fall and winter.

One fine day, in the early summer of 1895, my wife and I set our canoe afloat. Jess and Tricol followed us to the beach. As we started to paddle away, Jess plunged into the water and followed us. Tricol made several attempts to follow her companion, but like all cats, hated to get herself wet, so she quickly decided to keep abreast of us by running along the water's edge. When we beached our canoe, about an hour later, she was there to meet us.

Not long after this, on a warm, sunny day, we went boating again, and of course the playmates followed us to the water's edge as we launched the canoe for the second time that summer. As before, Jess leapt into the water and followed close astern. This time, Tricol, without hesitating, boldly followed her companion. We immediately slowed to a mere crawl, in order to see how things were going to fare with Tricol. Although Tricol fell somewhat behind, she kept right on swimming. And thus it happened time and time again while Tricol lived. Tricol is the only cat that I have known to take voluntarily to the water; and the strangest thing of all, she seemed to enjoy it immensely.

I began training Jess when she was very young. I never whipped her nor scolded, for she was very high strung. She obeyed well when she understood what it was that one wished her to do. About the first important task I taught her to perform, was to carry a small empty milk can to my parent's home.

In a short while, Jess became a most reliable errand runner. I frequently sent her to the Cannery, where I worked, to my home or to mother's home, with an order for eggs or butter. I would write up the order or message on a piece of paper, fold it up, place it in a partly split end of a small stick and then give it to Jess. If the missive was to be delivered to mother, I would say, as I gave Jess the stick, "Go over," if to my wife, the words would be, "Go home." She never failed to deliver the message to the right place. Once I sent her with an order for eggs. When she was about half way up the two hundred and fifty foot bluff, two friends of mine, as they were starting down the bluff, happened to see Jess coming with the message, (they knew about her prowness), so they made a pretense to take it away from her, to see what would happen, but she gave them the slip; so adroitly and swiftly was it done, that they were overwhelmed with amazement. They told me about the incident a few minutes after they arrived at the Cannery.

I often had Jess with me when I worked at the Cannery. She would always lie under my work bench, and therefore bothered no one. One day I had to go out among the fish traps to direct the placing of watchman's houses on the pot of each trap. The skipper, assigned to take me out to the traps, was a deep sea captain, Oliver by name, rather harsh in manner, but none the less a very fine man. When everything was ready, I went aboard. The tide was extemely low (21 feet from the wharf to the deck of the boat). On the deck were chains, coils of rope, a big anchor, gypsy and a steam winch; there was hardly standing room in front of the pilot house. I had forgotten to tell Jess to go home when I boarded the boat. So, just as I was getting into the pilot house, Jess alighted in the only vacant space on the foredeck, barely large enough to recieve her. The deckhand, no friend of dogs, threatened to throw her overboard. Just at that moment, Captain Oliver exclaimed, "My God! not in all my born days have I ever seen anything that equals this. Johnson, don't you touch that wonderful dog."

I told the captain that I could easily send the dog home. "No, he said, "the dog risked his life to be with you; so here he stays till we are through; bring him into the pilot house."

When I first started teaching Jess tricks, she failed to understand what I wished for her to do. She was then about eight months old. I placed a small block of wood on her nose and held it there lightly while I counted up to three, then made her toss it up as I said, "Catch" but the block fell to the ground. I repeated the procedure several times with no better success. I could plainly see that she was puzzled. She already was a superb retriever. I wound up a small ball of yarn. I threw the ball several times, and she would joyfully retrieve it. Then, as I said "catch" I tossed the ball straight to her,, but she would always grab it as it struck the ground. Then I attached a string to the ball, directed her to sit down, and swung it slowly in her direction, saying “Catch” in a low voice, so as not to get her excited. I continued this playfully for a moment with a slow, rhythmic movement, then she suddenly opened her mouth and grabbed the swinging ball. I petted and made much of her and treated her to a lump of sugar, to show how pleased I was with her performance. It was easily seen that she was pleased herself. When she had repeated the act as often as I wished, I removed the string from the ball and tossed it toward her; she caught it like a veteran and was eager for a repetition. Next, I contrived to have her toss the ball from her nose with my assistance. In a trice, she mastered that trick too. Finally, I took from my pocket a cube of sugar and balanced it carefully on her nose, then playfully sung out, “one, two three, catch.” She adroitly flipped the cube and caught it. Finally, after several repetitions, I have the order “eat” and she immediately started to crunch the cube of sugar; having learned the meaning of that order. After this, I encountered no difficulties in teaching Jess any trick or task. All I had to do was to show her the mode of procedure and she would immediately comprehend, as she possessed a tenacious memory.

Jess was an excellent bird dog. She could be directed in the field or in the water just by hand signals. She could also handle cattle effectively. When she was about a year old, I sent her to drive some stray cattle away. One of the creatures was ornery, so Jess snapped at it’s right hind foot; being her first encounter with cattle, she wasn’t aware of the danger that she was running in to; the kick caught her squarely on the head and all but knocked her out. But never again, she became an expert dogger.

For a year and a half we were obliged to go once a week to Ladner’s landing for our mail. Every third week, from the end of September to the first of April it was my turn to go. Sometimes, partly for diversion and at the same time for the purpose of training Jess, I would pick up an object and show her, then lay it on the ground, stump or a fallen tree. When I first tried the experiment, I walked about a mile before I sent her back for the object by saying “Jess, go fetch.” A few minutes later, she was back with the article. Next trial, her round trip was over six miles. The object was a fir cone.

An incident of this nature took place some months later. Bent Sivertz (Bent came with us from Victoria, B.C. when we moved to Point Roberts in 1894) and I had to go to Ladner’s Landing, Bent on business, I for the mail. None of the settlers owned a horse at that time; so going from one place to another was invariably traveled on foot. On our way, Jess would often strike a scent of a bird or a rabbit, and would have chased them, goodness knows where to, had I not ordered her to “heel.” Bent marveled at how well Jess minded.

We didn’t stay in the village any longer than we actually had to, because the round trip was a whole day’s journey on foot. In the outskirts of the town we came upon a pheasant. As Jess started pursuit, I ordered her to “heel” she obeyed at once. “Under such circumstances,” Bent remarked, “not one dog in a thousand would have obeyed the “heel” order, so mildly given, as this one did.” I told Bent that Jess would obey any order instantly if she understood the meaning of the order. We stood near a fence that had recently been repaired. Close by, I saw a piece of wood, about three inches long, 1 ½ inches wide by ¼ o an inch thick, which I picked up and showed Jess just before laying it down in an inconspicuous place by the fence. Jess was all attention. Then we continued onwards. When we were close to Whalen’s place, about ten miles from the aforementioned spot, I said to Jess, “go fetch.” Off she dashed like a streak of lightening. We were now about two and a half miles from Bent’s house and three and a quarter miles from mine. Just as we were reaching Bent’s gate, Jess returned with the piece of wood left by the fence at the southern outskirts of Ladner’s Landing.

This performance was such a surprise to Bent, that he was rendered speechless for a moment. Looking at Jess and the piece of wood as he remarked, “this is the most remarkable performance I have ever witnessed; not only bringing what she was sent for, but the great distance covered while we, although leisurely, walked approximately two and a half miles; it’s amazing.”

After Jess had mastered the art of catching a ball, tossing up light objects with her nose, and her mouth – which she could do without any assistance – and catch them every time, toting a stick of wood for the stove and running errands, she would often come to me, when my work at the cannery for the season was over, and fairly beg me to perform something new. She, of course, couldn’t speak, but would playfully come and touch my hand with her ice cold nose, then scamper off a few feet, wheel around and come back again.

The first time she did this I thought she had spotted a grouse and wanted me to come bag it; but thinking back, I recalled that when this happened to be her intention, she would bound into the forest, tree the bird and start barking, which she would keep up until I came. But this time she apparently just wanted to play. I took my cap off and laid it on a huge granite rock that stood a short distance west of the house. “Jess,” I said, “fetch my cap.” At once she understood and brought the cap to me, beaming with joy. Then, I put the cap in several different places with like results. Then, dismissing Jess with a pat and a praise, I went into my workshop to complete a partially finished project. After quite some time, I went out, leaving the door a jar. In her house, Jess was slumbering away. When I called her, she came scudding out with an expectant look. “Jess,” I said, “where is my cap?” She glanced up at my bare head, then looked towards the big rock and the other places she had seen me put it before. Then she looked around, in various directions with an anxious eye. Finally, she sidled into the workshop and quickly brought the cap with a very satisfied look for she could see how pleased I was. I then treated her to a bowl of milk and some cookies.

In playing this game I always placed the cap in such a way that the visor at least could be plainly seen, but would often be out of her reach. When this happened to be the case, she would omit a subdued yelp and point or jump toward it. In this quest she took more pride than in any other diversion.

I would often have her perform for friends, which she was always delighted to do. When I built our little house, in the fall of 1894, we had very little money, so the house had to be constructed as cheaply as possible. The main house was a 12’ by 24’ foot structure with a lean-to 10’ by 14’ kitchen. The main building was divided into two rooms, a living room and a bedchamber. The bedroom had a nine foot ceiling, while the living room’s overhead interior was the full height from the floor to the peak of the rafters. This provided a space above the bedroom ceiling with an open attic that formed a huge shelf, which, with the aid of a step ladder was sometimes used as such.

I had never used this open attic as a hiding place for my cap or anything else for Jess to ferret out. One day, several friends were enjoying watching Jess doing some of her stunts. As a diversion, I had her find my cap. I told the visitors that I was going to hide an article in a place, which I had never before used for this purpose. Taking one of my friends with me, as an observer, I entered the living room, leaving the others outside with Jess.
From a step ladder I placed my cap on the edge of the attic floor, with only half of the visor exposed to view. When we came out again, the others were amusing themselves by having Jess flipping up and catching a small flat stone, expertly performed. “Jess,” I said, “where is my cap?” She looked at me and saw that I was bareheaded. She looked in likely places in the yard for a short while, then went to the kitchen door and indicated that she wanted to get in. I opened the door. She looked in every nook in the kitchen. Next, she darted into the living room, looking everywhere; then round bout the bedroom. Finding no hint so far, she went out again, this time to the workshop. After futile efforts there, she ran back into the house again. This time we didn’t follow Jess, but left her to herself. In an incredibly short time we heard that familiar subdued yelp. When we came in she was looking at the cap’s visor, then made several quick, short leaps towards it, pointing out to us where the cap was located.

I shall never forget the overpowering surprise of my friends, nor their lavish praises, which Jess seemed to understand and delightedly appreciate.

The first winter we were in Point Roberts I met a fisherman, who went by the name of Sardine Pete, a native of Sweden. He fished in various places during summertime, but wintered here. The only thing Pete had in his keeping was a small, female bulldog, which he called Nell. Nell was an excellent water dog. When a school of salmon surfaced close by, Pete would, on some occasions, let Nell jump over the side of the boat. She would then single out a fish and suddenly seize it, bringing it to the side of the boat where Pete could gaff and land it. She was also famous for retrieving ducks and Brants – which were plentiful here at that time – even in a roaring sea.
In the fall of 1896, Sardine Pete decided to go back to his native country for good. Not being able to take Nell along, he tearfully begged me to adopt her, for he said he knew I would treat her well. So out of pity, I took Nell off his hands.

At this juncture, Jess was two years old. As soon as Pete was gone and Nell ensconsed in her house, Jess started to observe the newcomer from a safe distance; she had already determined that Nell, bulldog like, had no liking for her. Although Nell displayed spitefulness towards strange dogs, she was very meek and gentle when it came to human beings. Nell was getting old and hard of hearing and at times refused to eat for days. Now and then, to whet her appetite, I would concoct a toothsome evening feed. But still, in her extreme spells, she was in no hurry to help herself, even to such a dish.

Jess was endowed with an acute sense of smell, while Nell was extremely deficient in that respect, she proved useless for tracking birds or other small game. When someone was approaching, it was invariably Jess who would catch the scent and dash off into the forest barking impetuously, for she rarely knew from what direction the visitor was coming. In a short time, Jess appeared to be aware of Nell’s weakness and began to make use of it.

Early in the summer of 1897 my wife was obliged to go to Victoria, B.C., and stay there for quite sometime. So it fell entirely upon me to take care of both the dogs. I’d feed them early in the morning before going to work, and again in the evening when I came back from the cannery.
Both dogs remained faithfully at home without being tied.

Once again Nell was having a spell of indifference to food of any sort. One evening, when I got home from work, I saw that she had not touched her breakfast. She was lying with her head on her feet in the doorway of her house, in order to prevent Jess from stealing her portion of food. On this evening, I came home unusually late. The manager was explaining to me at length the project I was to start the following day. Jess was getting extremely impatient, because of her hunger, but Nell had not taken a bite of the morning’s ration. I quickly prepared an appetizing repast for Nell, and because of the lateness of the day, gave Jess a share of the same preparation. I sat down on the doorstep to watch the two dogs. When Jess was through gobbling up her dinner, she cast a glance at Nell, who appeared to be sleeping soundly; so unhesitatingly, she darted over to Nell’s dish, to consume it’s contents.

But Jess had no sooner reached the dish when Nell sprang out of her house and bit Jess unmercifully. Nell returned to her house without eating her food. Jess ran off a short distance and sat down deep in thought. Then, without warning, she began to bark excitedly and bound off in the direction of the woods. Instantly, Nell was on her feet and dashed after Jess. No sooner had Nell whizzed by than Jess turned abruptly back and headed straight for Nell’s dish of food and began gobbling as fast as she could, knowing from past experience that Nell would be back in a short time. At this juncture, I could not find it in my heart to interfere. Only by reason of her superior intelligence had she succeeded in acquiring her objective.

Excerpt from Arni S. Myrdal's journals

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