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Forget corgis – there’s a new top dog in the Royal household

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 09/10/2022 Kate MacDougall
King Charles and the Queen Consort with dogs Beth (left) and Bluebell (right) during the inaugural Dumfries House Dog Show - Danny Lawson © Danny Lawson King Charles and the Queen Consort with dogs Beth (left) and Bluebell (right) during the inaugural Dumfries House Dog Show - Danny Lawson

As a young lady about town, you would be hard-pressed to find a better introduction to society than appearing on the famous frontispiece page of Country Life – affectionately known as the “Girl in Pearls” – which has been showcasing the nation’s most eligible and accomplished women since 1897.

Earlier this summer, when the Queen Consort was Country Life’s guest editor, it was the turn of her two Jack Russell terriers, Bluebell and Beth, to pose for the magazine’s iconic page. Dressed in their owner’s pearl necklaces and posing beautifully on a bench at Camilla’s private residence, Raymill House in Wiltshire, the dogs are as pretty and as characterful as any of the magazine’s human debutantes.

The Queen in 1969 with her corgis - Edward Wing © Provided by The Telegraph The Queen in 1969 with her corgis - Edward Wing

With the death of the Queen and the relocation of her two remaining dogs, Muick and Sandy, to Royal Lodge in Windsor to live with the Duke and Duchess of York, these two terriers, rescued from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home (where the Queen Consort is the patron), are to now take centre stage as the new royal dogs, and I couldn’t think of a better breed to fill the very big shoes left by the Queen’s beloved corgis.

My own Jack Russell, Mabel, is 14 now but shows little sign of infirmity. Greyer, deafer and with half an ear missing (more on that later), she is still full of life and joy. A wedding present from family friends, my husband is not only blessed with an easy, furry reminder of how many years we have been married, but how many years since he converted from canine sceptic to fully paid-up member of the dog lovers’ club. 

It was Mabel that made him reconsider his position. A “proper dog” as he often says, the doggiest of all the dogs, the dog who exudes pure, undiluted happiness on every walk, the dog who lay guard by each of our children’s cots and once buried half a chocolate cake in our bed, the dog who chases deer but is scared of the wind, the dog who loves nothing more than a cuddle on the sofa and a scratch on the tummy and is always at the door to greet us with a wagging tail and a chewed-up teddy. The Jack Russell is, without a doubt, the best of all the dogs.

Kate with her dogs Mabel and Henry © Provided by The Telegraph Kate with her dogs Mabel and Henry

When we moved from London to Oxfordshire we were told by people who seemed to know about these things that the Jack Russell was the “right sort of dog” for countryside living, and if we weren’t going to go all in with a labrador, then the JRT was the next best thing. 

They’re just as good in the city though; their compact size and amenability meaning they travel well and don’t need a lot of space, but as any Jack Russell owner will tell you, they are hugely energetic, need lots of exercise and often have selective hearing. I resorted to putting a small bell on Mabel’s collar after losing her one too many times in the thick undergrowth on Wimbledon Common, a decision I am sure she still resents me for as it alerted all the squirrels to her advance.

Our new King has in fact been a fan of the breed for many years. In the 1990s and early 2000s he owned Pooh and then Tigga, the former briefly making the local Aberdeenshire press after disappearing while walking with her master on the Balmoral estate. 

In praise of Jack Russells © Provided by The Telegraph In praise of Jack Russells

While Pooh was sadly never found, Tigga lived to the ripe old age of 18 and was by all accounts a constant companion and beloved family pet until her death in 2002. She is buried in the grounds at Highgrove and beautifully immortalised in the gardens there by sculptor and Prince’s Trust grantee, Emma Stothard. Commissioned by the King, Emma took willow withies from the Highgrove estate to create the large scale, intricately designed wooden portrait, and has managed to perfectly capture the breed’s hardy, stocky build and vibrant, cheeky character.

It was believed that Pooh had most likely disappeared down a hole in the forests around the river Dee, a not uncommon fate of the overenthusiastic Jack Russell. Bred in the early 19th century by the Reverend John Russell, a passionate hunting enthusiast, the small black, white and tan terriers were designed to flush foxes out of holes, a trait they find hard to disregard to this day. Quickly settling into her new countryside home, Mabel decided that it was high time she got stuck into some subterranean hunting and lost half a left ear and nearly a whole right eye in the process.

It’s so hard to communicate with a grimly determined and exceptionally brave Jack Russell that her vet has strongly advised against scrapping with the underground, nocturnal residents of our local wood, as that is what her instinct tells her to do. 

But when she turned up one day at the entrance of our children’s small village primary school and shook blood from a gash on her nose given to her by a badger up the walls of the school office, it was time to rethink our approach to her daily walk. We take different routes now and keep her on the lead in any wooded areas, as despite her advancing years and some minor cardiac issues, she, like many of us, still feels young at heart.

Carrie Symonds with beloved Jack Russell-cross, Dilyn - OLI SCARFF © Provided by The Telegraph Carrie Symonds with beloved Jack Russell-cross, Dilyn - OLI SCARFF

But that is not to say that the Jack Russell cannot be trained. Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly star Graeme Hall says he has warmed to the breed he has been training over the years as they are affectionate, eager to learn and often very biddable dogs. “They’re lovely,” he told me. “Jack Russells are working dogs essentially, and they want to be good at their job. They want to please. I usually only see the really naughty ones, but they are always very intelligent, which means that you can usually get a lot out of them.”

Graeme and I chatted about the enduring appeal of the breed, and why they are rarely out of the Kennel Club’s top 10 most popular dogs in Britain, despite them only being officially recognised by the organisation in 2016. There was a surge in interest after Boris and Carrie Johnson introduced Dilyn to Downing Street in 2019, so perhaps Bluebell and Beth will spark an even greater interest and appreciation of the breed? “They’re sort of an everyman dog,” Graeme said.

“They have the posh, shooting and hunting appeal, but are good down the pub, too. Wherever you go, a Jack Russell just sort of fits. They’re not ostentatious or flamboyant in any way. They are just a great, all-round dog.”

Penny Junor, author of All the Queen’s Corgis, agrees, and believes that their popularity will only soar, particularly as the King and the Queen Consort are so devoted to their two. “We’re at the start of a whole new reign,” Penny says. “Not just of the two-legged variety, but of the four as well.” Welcome to the new Jackobean age.

London’s Number One Dog Walking Agency by Kate MacDougall is out in paperback on November 10

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