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Man's Best Friend
by Peter Wakefield Kitcher

I’ve always liked dogs. I grew up with dogs. My father bred dogs: Great Danes, Mastiffs, Retrievers, and occasionally getting down to smaller dogs like Staffordshire Bull Terriers who might have been smaller but were somewhat aggressive unless they were trained properly. Our Bull Terriers were well-trained and loved people. I didn’t know much about Bull Terriers and their history of baiting bulls until I was much older, but ours used to get on the bed when I was about five and push me off and then used to fight me. I didn’t know he was supposed to be ferocious. I liked dogs.
Now, how did I start talking about Bull Terriers? This isn’t about Staffordshire Bull Terriers but about a small Parson Jack Russell Terrier named Kim. I can’t remember how we ever thought of having a Jack Russell as a pet. They were probably very nice dogs but they were small. I knew that originally they had been trained to go down into fox dens and chase them out. I knew that they used to run with proper dogs like foxhounds but they were small. As far as I was concerned, they were about the same as cats who existed to catch mice and that was all.
Kim was a little bit different from a lot of other small dogs. The main thing was that he was somewhat aggressive. Not just snappy but aggressive. But this was only to other dogs. With adults and children, especially small children, he was the sweetest, calmest, lovingest little dog you ever saw. Everyone, especially small children, loved him. Kim was a quick learner and mastered a number of tricks. He especially enjoyed retrieving things that were thrown for him.
Shall I say that his personality changed when he was near another dog? He was a small dog but great size was not a factor in his perspective of other dogs nor in his decision to do something in the next few minutes. Somehow, any dog larger than him seemed to be a menace. The sweetest dog, three inches taller than him at the shoulder, appeared to be a menace and, according to him, was about to tear him apart, and he always decided he was going to attack first.
I began to like Kim very much and he was always very nice to me and wouldn’t ever have thought of attacking me. I began to watch him when we were out for a walk, on a leash of course. I noticed that, if we happened to meet another dog, there was a sort of tension. He never attacked; he was under control. As the weeks passed, I studied his reactions and it appeared that, in many cases, he seemed to be protecting me.
I took books out of the library on animal behaviour. I studied, I acquired documents, I went to evening classes about animal behaviour, I studied imprinting. I read about the history of man’s association with dogs. I read about the prehistoric connections and how dogs attached themselves to humans and how they became part of human evolution. I read of dogs in ancient Egypt and Greece and Rome. I began to think of myself as somewhat of an expert on animal and especially dog behaviour.
I began to realise that small as he was, Kim was part of my culture and his presence protected me from danger. I wondered if he knew that he was protecting me, my house, and my family. I watched him and admired him.
One day, I put on my hat and took Kim for his daily walk. We went down through the park and down to the river. No-one was about and I let him off his leash. We had had a lot of rain and the river was running very swiftly. I then noticed that it had crumbled the river bank but I noticed too late. The bank went out from under my feet and I fell headlong into the torrent. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Kim watching and then he came running towards me and dived into the river. At that moment I knew that my life was secure, I knew that without a moment of doubt.
I stood in three feet of water and watched him retrieve my hat and paddle back to the river bank.