All of my friends and relatives warned me not to adopt a Jack Russell terrier.
This was the summer of 2009. My previous dog, a wonderfully mellow 14-year-old sheltie, had passed away that year, and I was finally ready to adopt a new pet. While searching for shelter dogs one afternoon, I fell in love with a 3-year-old Jack Russell whose previous owners had to leave the country.
But everyone I asked told me to steer clear: "Too energetic and high-strung." "Stubborn and willful." "You'll spend half your day walking him, and the other half buying new shoes to replace the ones he will chew up."
Lucky for me, I ignored them and brought Tucker home on June 30, 2010. Little did I know I'd be on the vanguard of a trend, one that reaches its culmination on Oscar night, as The Artist -- and its adorable Jack Russell, Uggie -- competes for 10 Academy Awards.
Jack Russells, the scrappy little fox hunters who were first bred by the Rev. John Russell in the United Kingdom in the mid-19th century, have been on the Hollywood radar screen for decades, on TV shows like Frasier and in movies like The Mask. Among celebrities who own the dogs are Mariah Carey, Bette Midler and Paul McCartney. But it all came together for the breed in 2011.
First came Beginners, which featured Cosmo, a Jack Russell who plays Arthur, the loyal companion to the aging gay father played by Oscar nominee Christopher Plummer. That high-pitched bark, that nervous yelp whenever you leave the house, the quiet and simple pleasure he takes in plopping down on your lap: Cosmos' was a performance that brilliantly inhabited the Jack Russell experience.
Soon after, Uggie began his fabulous run. A longtime bit player in commercials and forgotten movies like Mr. Fix It and Paul Blart: Mall Cop, he first garnered attention in 2011 in Water for Elephants. He had a small supporting role as Queenie, the dog of the circus dwarf Kinko (Mark Povinelli). Uggie followed that, of course, with his dazzling work in The Artist. Without so much as an audible bark to let us know what he was thinking, he powerfully captured his character's devotion to his master and his deep bravery.
The awards for that performance have been considerable -- a Pawscar, a Golden Collar, the Palme Dog at last year's Cannes Film Festival -- and justifiably so. Not since Asta, the wire-haired fox terrier in the "Thin Man" films, has one canine so quickly entered the pop-culture galaxy.
Hollywood is fickle. Tastes quickly change, especially when it comes to canines. Uggie and his owners, no doubt preferring to avoid the post-Oscar curse, recently announced that the now-10-year-old Jack Russell would be retiring. He will busy himself instead as the first ever "spokesdog" for Nintendo, and by lounging by the pool.
Already there are signs that, by this time next year, we'll be buzzing about another breed entirely. Last month, director Martin Scorsese wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Times protesting that the Doberman pinscher from Hugo hadn't gotten nearly the attention it deserved. A Pekingese named Malachy (ugly even by the standards of Pekingese, if you ask me) recently won the Westminster Kennel Club "Best in Show" prize.
But as a proud Jack Russell terrier owner, and a fan of both The Artist and Beginners, I can only thank the likes of Cosmo and Uggie for letting the world in on my little secret: They may require a little extra energy and attention. They may bark when you leave the house and jump all over you when you return, even if only 15 seconds have elapsed. They may eat more peanut butter treats than you can afford.
But if it's companionship, affection, personality, spirit, protectiveness and intelligence you're after in a dog, then every year is the year of the Jack Russell.