Jack Be Nimble, Jack Be Quick.

This Saturday, February 25  marks the fourth year The New Barker will be covering the Jack Russell Terrier Races at the beautiful Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City. What follows is an excerpt, which first appeared in the Spring, 2008 issue of The New Barker about these fine, funny, fearless little dogs:

On a cool, sunny, rather perfect day for a stroll, dogs and horses of a very special stripe were queuing up for much more than a walk in the park. Just north of Dade City, a spectacularly colorful dual racing event brought The New Barker dog magazine out of its urban confines, to cover the Little Everglades Steeplechase Jack Russell Terrier Races. The dogs compete on a 150-foot straight course that has several hurdles over the length of the track. We had no idea what we were in for, but from the looks of the crowd and the electric atmosphere, we knew it was going to be special. About an hour before post time, Jack Russell’s were everywhere, getting prepped for the upcoming heats—the excitement was palpable—and I needed to get close to the action.

The gentleman wore a baseball cap and dark sunglasses, and watched as I approached the Terrier racecourse. “You with the media?” he asked, very matter-of-factly. Still not quite accustomed to that question, and a little intimidated by his imposing stature, I answered, “I’m with The New Barker.” He chuckled and told me the best way to photograph a Jack Russell race was to aim the camera through the cut out where the dogs, chasing the lure, would be barreling through at the end of the race. He pointed at the ground-level opening he was referring to, which was about a foot in diameter. I would have a bird’s-eye view of the dogs running straight at me. However, it meant I would need to lie on the hay-covered dirt, precious camera propped up by my elbows, aim and shoot. As the dogs neared the entryway into the catch pen, I would have to use my own judgment as to when I would roll to one side to keep from being trampled by the crazed little guys. “They get pretty wild and don’t stop, so you’re going to have to move fast to get out of their way,” he said. Another thing I needed to be concerned with, he told me. The lure was attached to a string and pulled lightning-fast by a pulley behind us. The string and the lure would be coming through the same little hole that the dogs would be running through. “Get too close to that, and it’ll cut right through your clothing and into your skin,” he cautioned me. Then he looked at me and asked, “Interested?” Was I ever!

Jack Russell Terrier Races, Little Everglades Ranch, Dade City, FL. Photograph by Anna Cooke, The New Barker.

He lifted the rope and helped me climb over the bales of hay that contained the makeshift six-by-six holding pen. “My name’s Darren Shiver, by the way.” “Nice to meet you Darren,” I answered. He introduced me to his wife Fran, whom I’d spoken to earlier in the week by phone. Also in the catch pen were eight students from Zephyrhills’ Heritage Academy School, who volunteered to catch the terriers as they came racing through the opening. Thankfully, each dog would be wearing a muzzle to keep from harming each other or their handlers. If the dogs bumped into one another, they would get into a scuffle.

Nevertheless, the dogs were pumped with excitement by the time they reached the end of the race in the catch pen. To the dogs, that furry lure was their prized fox and most of them were focused on nothing else but catching it. Fran had a walkie-talkie so that she could talk to the race volunteers at the starting line, letting them know when we were all ready on our end for the next race. She also tabulated the results of each race.

The first few races were open to amateurs. Those were called training heats. To the delight of their humans, the Jack Russell Terriers who had never done anything like this before were allowed to partake in the fun. Some dogs took to the race instinctively, while others didn’t have a clue. Uncomfortable with the muzzles and confused by the commotion of the cheering crowd, a few dogs had to be coaxed by their owners to finish the race. This was done on several occasions by the human jumping onto the track and coaxing their dog with, “Come on, let’s go, you can do it!” after the race had been completed by the other dogs.

As the official races were about to begin, we learned that each dog could race up to six times during the course of the day. The dogs were grouped by size, between the standards and the talls. For example the talls — all dogs over 30 centimeters at the shoulders, would race together.

The first sets of 100-meter races were on a straight, empty track. Chasing a fox lure, each dog would race in a heat and their placing was determined by which final they would draw. For instance, if a dog ran first in his heat he drew into the first’s final, if he ran second, he drew into the second’s final and so on. Up to eight dogs could compete in any one race. After the 100-meter flat heats and finals came the 100-meter hurdles, where the dogs chased the lure while jumping over a series of hurdles. There were twenty-six races throughout the day and just one or two close calls from my vantage point.

As the day wore on, I became a little more brave with each race, waiting until (what I thought) was the last minute. One dog ran into my index finger as I tried rolling out of his way. But I didn’t mind. To be down on the ground watching six to eight dogs as they bore down on me was almost mesmerizing and incredibly exhilarating. During the following two weeks, I would look at the bruise on my index finger (which hurt like the dickens) and smile at the memory of my experience. While I may not have gotten the best photographs, I had the best seat in the house, by far.

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Redemption for Shelter Animals in Hillsborough County, Florida.

It was a veritable who’s who of Tampa Bay dignitaries and dog lovers at the Westshore Marriott on Saturday, February 4. More than 250 folks attended the Save 90 Conference, featuring Nathan Winograd. The New Barker, a proponent of the No Kill Movement, and one of the sponsors of the event, first featured a review of Nathan’s book, Redemption, in 2008. It was the book that started the No Kill Movement. Meeting the (in my humble opinion) rock star who is Nathan Winograd was indeed a pleasure, and an honor.

Anna Cooke's well-worn copy of the book, Redemption by Nathan Winograd, autographed by the author on February 4, 2012.

He was in town at the invitation of Linda Hamilton and Frank Hamilton, both with Animal Coalition of Tampa, a low cost spay/neuter clinic in Tampa. Pacing the floor before the conference, getting in the zone, it was clear Nathan was on a mission. You see, Hillsborough County Animal Services is searching for a new director, and the Hamiltons are hopeful that the timing of Winograd’s visit will effect the selection process to the degree that no-kill advocacy is a requisite qualification for the job.

Animal Coalition of Tampa set the playing field: The game plan is Save 90 and their star player would be Nathan Winograd. On Saturday, February 4, it was Nathan’s job to get a solid foothold in the game, landing Save 90 on at least first base. Tough, since it’s safe to say some in the crowd were skeptical. But Nathan has seen his share of naysayers throughout his career. Indeed those past naysayers would be part of his presentation, complete with audio sound bites. Tampa Bay was ready to hear Nathan Winograd.

Among the attendees were Rick Medina of Animal Based Charities; Deborah Millman, executive director of Honor Animal Rescue/Sarasota; Pamela Perry, Investigation Manager for Hillsborough County Animal Services; Pat Hose of Dalmatian Rescue Tampa Bay; Bill Gray with Second Chance Boxer Rescue; Eric Emminger with Pit Bull Happenings; Martha Boden, executive officer of SPCA Tampa Bay; Kris Logan-Walker, owner of Fluffy Puppies; photographer Danette Morse and husband Dan; Kathy Walvoord of St. Francis Society Animal Rescue; representatives from No Kill Manatee, Florida Voices for Animals and Animal Network; Laura Fletcher-Taylor of Fletcher Harley-Davidson and Loving Friends Transport; and Cynthia Smoot of Fox-13 News.

Linda Hamilton opened the conference with remarks that were both humorous and compelling. Then, via a taped video, Kris Weiskopf, chief of Manatee County Animal Services gave an eye-opening review of their mission and promise to be a No Kill Community by the end of 2012. Kris introduced Nathan, who held the audience’s attention for the next two-and-a-half hours. Did I say held our attention? The man not only held it, he lassoed it; reeling us in, making us laugh, cry, and then had us thinking long and hard about taking chances. Chances that will make a difference to the bottom line. The bottom line of saving money and most important, saving lives. What’s not to like about that?

After The New Barker reviewed Nathan’s book, Redemption in 2008, he contacted me and asked if I would like to send autographed copies of his book to shelter directors in Florida. I gave him the name of several shelter directors, and he made sure they knew the autographed books were sent on behalf of The New Barker. Not one shelter director acknowledged receipt of the book. Although, one director did let me know, indirectly via the shelter’s communications director that the book was not well thought of, and would not be read. Almost four years later, all but one of those directors was in the audience on Saturday, February 4 for the conference.

Why the change of heart, Cynthia Smoot of Fox-13 News asked me? My answer: The No Kill Movement is a movement whose time has come to Florida. Manatee County Animal Services made the pledge with full support from the County Commissioners. Other Florida counties are contacting Manatee County, wanting to learn how they too can become a No Kill Community. Linda Hamilton has made trips to Manatee County to meet with Kris Weiskopf and his staff. It’s a movement that can no longer be ignored, or ridiculed. The No Kill Movement has reached the masses, and the people are responding.

Not everyone applauded Nathan on Saturday, nor did every person stand during several standing ovations. But, his words, statistics, and photographs provided substantial proof that the No Kill Equation works. The majority of the audience was convinced that Hillsborough County should become a No Kill Community. His words did not fall on deaf ears. When Nathan was finished, Rick Reidy, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan’s legislative aide, stood up to address the audience on Hagan’s behalf. Reidy told the audience that Hagan would recommend to the Board of County Commissioners that Hillsborough County Animal Services take the necessary steps to become a no kill facility.

Animal Coalition of Tampa's Frank and Linda Hamilton; Save 90 guest speaker, Nathan Winograd;Fox-13's Cynthia Smoot.

Nathan listened to Reidy and watched the crowd as they jumped to another standing ovation. A smile was barely visible on this thoughtful man’s face. Yes, we’re in the game because of Animal Coalition of Tampa and Manatee County Animal Services. And, yes Nathan Winograd got us on base. But we’re not in the home stretch yet.

The community must get behind this, and let the county commissioners know how important the issue of No Kill is to them. Join the Alliance to Save 90 by going to www.save90.org. Attend the monthly meetings, held the first Tuesday of each month; the first one on February 7 at the Tampa Tribune Auditorium. Make sure elected officials embrace the decision by the community that the killing of companion animals housed in shelters and animal services, is not okay. Make sure elected officials hire a compassionate and competent individual at Hillsborough County Animal Services to lead the plan. The new hire must be able to embrace the No Kill Equation.