I wanted to write something on owning an older Jack Russell. I'm not talking about the terriers you see in the veteran classes; those are just babies compared to the older terriers many of us have at home. Over the years I've visited friends of the club and there is always one or two walking around their house and you are instructed right away, "just be careful around him, he doesn't see very well" or "don't mind her, sometimes she forgets where she is." When people visit us they meet Maggie who is totally deaf, having trouble seeing and some days wanders aimlessly. She will be 18 in January and surprisingly isn't on any meds. Her deafness is a result of a reaction to anesthesia when she had a dental and ear cleaning at 13, though we all swear she's been a much happier dog since then. Her best friend Pied Piper was 16 when he passed away and even my vet was certain she probably wouldn't last much longer. Luckily we had a litter of pups about 6 months later and she decided her job was to watch them when they were on the patio (without mom). After that she seemed to think her job was escorting the other terriers out the door when they were turned out to run in the backyard. She still has 3 sets of dogs that enjoy her company.
Like many older dogs she will pace the floor at night but eventually relaxes on an old love seat and sleeps until almost noon. Although she can still jump up, life is made easier on her old joints with inexpensive padded footstools. Even when she still enjoyed sleeping in bed with us (way back when she was 15) we got a set of steps so she didn't have to jump down and risk injury to herself. We live in a bi- level house and Maggie, who isn't that reliable on the stairs anymore, has full run of the lower level. Like most of us who have older terriers our floor is strategically littered with old quilts, doggie beds and fluffy pillows to make the old gal comfortable. These things are washable in case of accidents, which are inevitable. Old dogs go through many changes and you just need to 'go with the flow'. When she was 16 or so we got elevated water bowls, the kind where the bowls sit in a metal stand, because she almost seemed to tip over when she took a long drink. I guess standing for a long time with her head lowered would put her off balance. She wouldn't eat her food when it was raised up like that for some unknown reason, but when she tried to eat on the floor her back legs would split out sideways, so now we put her food bowl on a large piece of carpet so she can plant her feet. We also had to change her food to a smaller kibble size when we started to notice she wasn't eating as well. It's also mixed with warm broth or water and some kind of treat to entice her to finish her portion before Buttons or the cat could sneak over to steal some. She would never have allowed that when she was younger. If anyone else even looked at her bowl she would start growling and wolf it down. Keeping track of an old dog's eating and drinking habits is very important. Old kidneys can fail rapidly and too much weight loss can be a sign of more than just a bad appetite. Taking your old dog to the vet at the first sign of trouble is also very important. This year after one too many accidents in one day, I collected some of her urine and we went to the vet. Maggie had a pretty impressive bladder infection and after 2 weeks of antibiotics is recovering quite well. It this were left untreated she would surely have had a much bigger problem.
I've gotten a few phone calls from owners asking for advice regarding trouble at home between their young and old terriers, and I'd like to share what we have done over the years. Maybe you'll find something helpful. First, you must remember that in the animal world older members of the pack are respected only up to the point that they can defend their ranking. After that they are in the way of the younger members who wish to improve their status. There isn't a whole lot you can do about this except to keep your older dogs safe. Our Maggie for example can walk around the yard with some of the dogs but is never left with them, and once inside she has the company of one younger female who is submissive (and our cat). There are several other older females that seem to be drawn to her but they are a little more dominant. If an argument would start, Maggie would lose, so she is never left in that situation. Just because they get along most of the time doesn't mean the older dog isn't being placed in danger and Murphy's Law should always be in the back of your mind. For those of you who are not Irish, it goes "Anything that can go wrong... will." If you apply this way of thinking to your older terrier, you will never have to worry.
Believing your young dogs will never pick on your older terrier because they are related or grew up together is a gamble. I have a friend who has an older large breed dog and the terriers that always got along with him, now pick fights with him whenever they can. They sense that he is weak and the instinct to improve their status in the house has taken over so much so that the older dog is now kept separate from the pack with the use of baby gates. These work great in keeping the older dog out of harms way because you can spend your time with one set of dogs while the others can still see you, and therefore won't feel left out. If you purchase the pressure mounted gates you can move them from room to room while you are working in that part of the house. It isn't fair to your older terrier to allow attacks to continue once they've started. Don't fool yourself by making excuses that it probably won't happen again, or that was my fault because I wasn't paying enough attention. Do yourself and your old friend a favor and rearrange your home so that everyone is safe, all of the time, and all of you will feel better.
Written by Karen Cooper, NJ