January 17, 2011
Rat Terrier

Photo by Audrey Pavia

The Amazing Olivia is quite the hunter

Most urban farmers aren’t too concerned with rodent control. A mouse in the house is more of a problem for us urban types than a mouse in the grain room for rural farmers. But as my friend Lisa’s dog Olivia showed me, urban farms can certainly benefit from the instincts of a good hunter.

Olivia is a Rat Terrier, the first I’d ever met. Rat Terriers look a little like Jack Russell Terriers, so I made a lot of assumptions about Olivia before I got to know her. I figured she would be independent, hard-headed, difficult to train and a not trustworthy around other animals. Boy, was I wrong. 

Turns out, Rat Terriers are not at all like Jack Russells. They have a very diverse genetic background and a very different temperament. They are much more trainable, easygoing with other dogs and less aggressive with other pets. And they have an “off switch.” Although they are incredibly active, Rat Terriers can go from 90 mph to 0 in an eye blink, if you only just ask them.

When Olivia first came to my house, I was afraid she would kill my chickens and my rabbits. And at the very least, harass my cats. After all, Rat Terriers were bred for many years to hunt and kill their prey. But it soon become obvious I had nothing to worry about. The first time Olivia looked at my chickens with interest, Lisa said “Olivia, no. Do not bother the chickens.” And that was the end of that. Olivia never looked at them again.

Then there were the rabbits. Olivia can jump like a gazelle, and I was worried she would leap over the fencing of the exercise pen where I keep my Rex rabbits, Prudence and Smokey, and make short work of them. “Olivia,” Lisa said to her the first time Oliva saw the rabbits. “Leave the rabbits alone.” Olivia never paid attention to them again.

I started to think that maybe Olivia just didn’t have that hunting instinct that Rat Terriers are supposed to have. If she did, how could she turn it off so easily just because her mom told her to? She is a terrier after all.

But the other day, I went outside to feed the horses and noticed something dead lying in the dirt. Upon close examination, I realized it was a gopher. A gopher! I had never seen a gopher before in my life, let alone in my backyard. The creature had two teeth marks in its chest and its fur was wet. It had clearly been in the mouth of a dog. Because Nigel had gone off with Randy for a few days during that time, it couldn’t have been him who made the kill. Clearly, it this was Olivia’s handy work.

Now when I look at Olivia, I not only see a sweet, affectionate and fun-loving little dog, but also a skilled and discriminate hunter. Any dog that can be told which critters to leave alone and which ones to take out is pretty incredible to me. That’s why I no longer call her Olivia. She is now The Amazing Olivia to me.

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