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Jim the Wonder Dog exhibit showcases Missouri’s most remarkable canine

Currently on display at the AKC Museum of the Dog, is a special exhibit on Jim the Wonder Dog .

So who is Jim.

In the 1930s, the most famous celebrity in the state of Missouri wasn’t a person – it was Jim the Wonder Dog, a resident of the Ruff Hotel in the town of Marshall.

Jim, a purebred Llewellyn setter, was born in Louisiana – an “ungainly looking” pup the breeder had trouble selling. A friend, knowing that Sam VanArsdale was in the market for a hunting dog, purchased the pup at a discounted price and passed him along to VanArsdale.

The dog had overly large feet and eyes that seemed more knowing than other dogs, and Sam determined to make a hunter of him despite others doubts. He sent him to Ira Irvine, one of the best dog trainers around, to learn hunting.

jim the dog 1The dog, by now named Jim, observed the classes but refused to participate. When Irvine took the dogs he was training to a field to flush game birds, Jim curled up under a shady tree and watched. After hearing the story, Sam considered giving Jim away but decided to give him one more chance.

On his first hunting trip, Jim almost immediately went on point upon being let into the field and held point until the bird was downed. When Sam commanded Jim to retrieve the bird, Jim did so without damaging it. Soon, his hunting prowess was renowned. At 5,000 birds, Sam stopped counting. Jim was named “Hunting Dog of the Century” by both Missouri Life and Missouri Conservationist magazines.

It was on a hunting trip like any other that Sam opened the door on Jim’s other, more surprising, talent.

After a hot afternoon of hunting, Sam said, “Jim, let’s go sit under that hickory for a while.” And Jim trotted straight to the hickory tree and sat down. It struck Sam as surprising that the dog both seemed to understand what he’d said and know what a hickory tree was. He decided to test Jim’s knowledge a little more.

“Jim, go find an oak tree,” he said.

And Jim did.

“Where’s the cedar tree?”

Jim put his paw on the nearest cedar tree.

Every tree or object Sam named, Jim identified. Sam could not wait to share the news with his wife, Pearl.

Pearl was enchanted, as she was with everything Jim did. The couple had no children and Jim was their “furbaby” as we would say today. She did caution Sam on mentioning Jim’s talent to others for fear anyone else would think the man crazy.

But Sam could not keep such a wonder to himself. That very evening, when he and Jim visited the courthouse lawn and met up with a group of his cronies, Sam showed them what Jim could do. They were properly impressed.

Sam managed a hotel with many visitors and it wasn’t long before Jim was performing every evening – showing salesmen, families and visitors from all over the country and world what he could do. Word of this amazing dog traveled and soon people were arriving just to see Jim.

As more people viewed Jim’s “tricks,” they became more involved. One evening, a doubting salesman from Iowa demanded Sam prove that he wasn’t giving Jim a sign that led him to make his choices. Sam told the visitor to write his license plate on a piece of paper and show it to the dog. The man did and Sam told Jim to find the visitor’s out-of-state car. Jim wandered momentarily then walked up to the car and placed his paw on the fender.

Neither Sam nor anyone else could explain how Jim did what he did.

The veterinary school at the University of Missouri asked to examine him. After the head doctor and his assistants had examined the dog from head to toe, a number of professors joined Jim and the veterinarians on the quadrangle. Each one wrote a task on a paper, many in foreign languages, and laid it before the dog. Jim performed each task in turn until the last one from a Greek language professor. After looking at the paper and looking around, Jim just sat.

Sam apologized and explained that had never happened before. The professor laughed and admitted all he had written on the paper was the Greek alphabet. After all the examinations and tests, the veterinarians had no explanations for Jim’s talents.

Jim could identify colors, even though dogs are thought to be color blind. He could predict future events. He picked the winners of the Kentucky Derby seven years in a row.

Sam wrote the names of the racing horses on pieces of paper. Jim picked the winner and it was marked with an “x,” placed in an envelope, placed in a safe, and left unopened until the race was run. Seven years in a row, he was correct.

Jim was offered roles in movies but Sam declined any offers. It was a visiting journalist who gave Jim the moniker “Wonder Dog.”

Even though Jim sired several litters of pups, none showed the talents their father possessed.

One afternoon when Jim was 12 years old, he and Sam traveled to a nearby lake to fish. When Jim jumped out of the car, he collapsed. Before Sam could get him to the vet, he died.

Sam and Pearl wished to bury Jim in the local cemetery but dogs were not allowed. They buried him outside the fence in a specially made casket. As time passed, the graveyard expanded and today, Jim is buried in Ridge Park Cemetery in Marshall.

The Ruff Hotel no longer exists. In its place is the Jim the Wonder Dog Memorial Garden featuring a statue of Jim, patterned after a painting by Pearl. There is also a museum commemorating Jim’s life and times.

To learn more, visit the AKC Museum of the Dog, online at www.museumofthedog.org.

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