This is the story of Sam Van Arsdale and his dog Jim: one of the many beautiful friendship stories among dogs and people, except that there is a special, remarkable and magical trait about this one. It could perfectly pass as a fantastic short story, but it actually was a real case. Reality is stranger than fiction many times. Seeing is believing… please come and read…
Back in the 1920’s, in Marshall City, Missouri, the USA, there was a man called Sam Van Arsdale. He enjoyed going hunting, a very questionable activity for those of us who love animals, but which sets the background to an amazing and magical story.
One day, Mr. Van Arsdale bought a Llewelyn setter that would later become his new hunting mate. Although the other litter dogs were sold at 25 dollars each, expectations about Jim were really low, so he was offered for less than half that price, regardless of the fact that Jim was a pureblood dog, son of pureblood champions from Louisiana. Jim, a black and white setter, was placed in a kennel where he was trained for hunting, but while the other three puppies did the excercises, Jim lay under the shadow and just gazed at them. Maybe because he did not want to do them, or probably because he did not need them.
Fall came crawling in and Mr. Van Arsdale took Jim hunting for the first time. Everything changed since then. That day, Jim was able to spot a covey of quail and stay still next to it, pointing at it, as that is exactly what ‘setter’ means: ‘a dog that stays still next to game and shows the way towards it’. Jim was an excellent hunter, only that he did not search where he knew he would not find. He was, in fact, a smart dog: he was not lazy or unmotivated; he was, on the contrary, an energy and time saver. That strategy made him famous and the Outdoor Life Magazine portrayed him as “The Hunting Dog f the Country”.
But hunting was just one of the areas in which Jim excelled. He could understand every single word his master said. When Mr. Van Arsdale gave him an order, he could perfectly carry it out. One day, they were in the field and Mr. VanArsdale said: “let’s go over and rest a bit under that Hickory tree.” And Jim went ahead towards that tree, and not any other. Van Arsdale was impressed. So he later asked him to go towards the Walnut, then to the Cedar, then a stump, and then a tin can. Jim went to every single place he was told. The kennel salespeople could not have been more wrong.
But that was not all: when asked, Jim could identify a car by make, color, out-of-state and license number. He could also identify people as “the man who sells hardware, or “the visitor from Kansas City”. He could understand commands in different languages and even in Morse code! He predicted the winner of seven Kentucky Derbies and he picked the winners in the World Series of baseball. He could anticipate the sex of unborn babies, and foretell that Roosevelt would win the presidential elections in 1936.
Mr. Van Arsdale was truly and completely stunned, so he took Jim to Missouri University so that Dr. Durant, head of the School of Veterinary Medicine, with Dr. Dickison, member of the School of Agriculture, and their students could evaluate Jim. They did not find any physical anomaly, comparing him with other dogs, and, on top of that, Jim could carry our any order given to him in every possible language. For instance, Van Arsdale said: “Jim, there is a college professor here named Dickinson. Show him to us” And he could do it. A professor asked Jim where an Elm tree was in Italian and he could do it. Another one asked Jim to point out a plate number in French and he could do it as well. He was given commands in German and Spanish and he could understand them all. Once the evaluation was finished, it was concluded that Jim possessed and occult power that might never be seen in a dog in many generations. Paramount Pictures filmed Jim’s testing.
After a performance in Kemmerer, Wyoming in 1935, an article about Jim was written in the Gazzette of Kemmerer in which he was referred to for the first time and for always as “Jim, the Wonder Dog”. In addition, he performed before the Missouri Legislature and at the Missouri State Fair. Journalists from different media went to see Jim’s performances and became perplexed. Many articles were written about him and he was even featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not, a magazine at the time. Jim became a worldwide star. However, Van Arsdale did not approve of the making of a film about Jim. He did not want to profit from his dog.
Jim died in 1937 during one of his expeditions and he was buried in Marshall’s Ridge Park Cemetery, where a great number of people visit him daily.
In 1999, Marshall City Government inaugurated the Jim the Wonder Dog Garden, just where the legendary Ruff Hotel was, home to Jim and his owner Sam, the manager of that hotel. There is a monument of Jim there and a description of this magical story, belonging to Marshall City’s most famous inhabitant…
Reading is believing… draw your own conclusions… if you wish…