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The Fantastic Story of Jim the Wonder Dog

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Among all of the psychics throughout history, there are actually quite a few who were actually supposedly animals. I have written here recently of a psychic horse, but that is by no means where it begins and ends with regards to psychic animals, and the list is actually surprisingly long. One very well known case is that of a mild-mannered dog who did not seem like much at first, but who would go on to be an absolute sensation and persistent unsolved mystery.

The dog named Jim came into the world in 1925 at West Plains, Missouri. A Llewellyn setter born to championship stock, the breed was highly prized as hunting dogs, and so when the litter was born they sold quickly, all except for Jim because it turned out he was the runt of the litter. With no willing buyers he was sold at a greatly reduced price to a friend of local hunter Sam Van Arsdale to give to him as a joke. Van Arsdale accepted the puppy, and his niece took care of Jim until he was old enough to start training to hunt. Van Arsdale thought that, despite being a runt, Jim might turn out to be a fine hunting dog after all, and so brought him to the area’s best dog trainer, Ira Irvin. The results left a lot to be desired. Jim reportedly refused to engage in the training, instead just quietly sitting in the shade watching the other dogs, and he was very unresponsive to all attempts to teach him anything. Irvin would bring him back to Van Arsdale in frustration and tell him that there was nothing to be done with him and that he was worthless as a hunting dog. Van Arsdale considered giving Jim away, but decided to keep him as a house dog because he was so mellow, sweet, and had “riveting, human-like eyes.” However, the dog had some surprises in him.

A picture of Jim

One day Van Arsdale went out hunting with some other dogs and decided to take Jim along just to see what would happen. He mostly expected that Jim would just sit back and take a nap under a tree while they hunted, but to his surprise, as soon as they came across some quail Jim was the first to dash out and point them out. When a quail was shot, Jim then immediately picked it up and brought it to the stunned Van Arsdale as if he had been doing this his whole life. Jim had acted like a perfectly trained hunting dog, despite what Irvin had said, and he went on to become Van Arsdale’s top dog. In fact, Jim turned out to be so good at hunting that he helped bag more quails than any other known hunting dog, and would eventually go on to be featured in Outdoor Life Magazine as “The Hunting Dog of the Country.” Not bad for a runt who couldn’t hack the official training, and yet Jim still had more surprises to come.

On one hunting trip, Van Arsdale decided to take a break and told Jim they should rest under a nearby hickory tree, after which the dog promptly ran to it, even though there were various other types of trees around. Puzzled, the hunter then told Jim to go to other types of trees such as walnut and cedars, which the dog did without fail. Van Arsdale even had the dog run to a tree stump and then a tin can lying around and Jim did that too. It seemed that the dog actually understood what was being said to him, so when they got home Van Arsdale tested him out some more, having Jim point out different colors and makes of car, which the dog did perfectly. Before long, they began attracting audiences of curiosity seekers, and Van Arsdale would have Jim point out “the woman with a baby,” “the one wearing a suit,” or “the man with a mustache,” which the dog did without missing a beat. The dog would even respond to other people asking it to point things out, and Jim would also perform complex commands, doing whatever he was told. He even answered questions that is seemed impossible that a dog should know. For instance, when asked what had made Henry Ford rich, Jim ran up to a Ford model car and put his paw on it, and when asked what he thought about God he ran to a priest in the crowd. Just as spectacular is that sometimes people would shout out commands from the audience in other languages and Jim was still able to follow them. As amazing as this all was, it was during these amazing impromptu performances that Jim began to display an even more impressive ability.

At one point, Van Arsdale, almost as a joke, asked Jim to point out “the man who sells hardware,” something which of course he couldn’t possibly know, but yet Jim ran right up to a man who just happened to sell hardware. “Show me a visitor from Kansas City” got the same result, and so did other commends to point out people based on criteria that there was no way for anyone to know. When asked to show everyone where to go when they are sick, Jim would go up to a doctor in the crowd, and if he was asked to run to a woman pregnant with a boy or girl, he was able to accurately do so. He would also pick out people based on what was in their pockets, find hidden objects, and correctly guess the names of people that were written down on pieces of paper. One of his most popular tricks was to have someone write down a license plate number for a car without showing it to Jim, and the dog would successfully wander off to find the car. It seemed as though this unusual dog was not only incredibly bright, but also actually psychic.

Jim and Van Arsdale

Van Arsdale began taking Jim on the road, where he amazed audiences and drew in droves of people coming to watch the “Jim the Wonder Dog.” His predictions started to become more complex, perhaps the most famous being his ability to predict who would win the Kentucky Derby. Names would be written on slips of paper and the dog asked to point out the winner, which he would successfully and uncannily do for seven consecutive races. In 1936, he predicted who would win the World Series, and he even predicted who would win the presidential election between Franklin Roosevelt and Alf Landon. As all of this was going on, Jim featured in various news articles, as well as in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. He performed in front of reporters and even a joint session of the Missouri Legislature that was called in order to watch Jim, and at no point could anyone find any evidence of trickery or of Van Arsdale somehow cueing the dog with hand signals. Jim was submitted to be studies by both Washington University, St. Louis and University of Missouri in Columbia, neither of which could explain how he did what he did, as well as several top veterinarians who were equally bewildered. Jim passed test after test, largely leaving psychologists and veterinarians puzzled. One veterinarian, a Dr. Sherman Dickinson, would say that Jim, “possessed an occult power that might never come again to a dog in many generations.”

Jim’s fame brought in various offers, including dog food advertisements and even a Hollywood movie, but Van Arsdale curiously refused them all. In fact, he never made any money at all off of Jim, never charging for his demonstrations or shows. This is intriguing, because it tends to take away from the idea that this was a hoax of some sort perpetrated for money. Indeed, there were various people who were determined to debunk it all as a fraud, but no one was ever successfully able to do this. Jim continued to wow people all over the country, and whether he was the real deal or not, it gave hope and wonder to people who were short on both in the face of crushing economic troubles at the time. Jim’s biographer Nancy Dailey has said of this:

They were losing their homes, they were losing farms, there wasn’t much of anything to do. And so if you were in town and saw Jim, this was, first of all, free. And second of all, amazing. And it would take their mind off of the troubles they were going through.

Jim was beloved by many people, and the Governor of Missouri even signed a bill making Jim the Wonder Dog officially “Missouri’s Wonder Dog.” The amazing Jim the Wonder Dog would continue to inspire awe and fascination right up to 1937, when he tragically collapsed and died during a hunt at the age of 12. Jim’s death caused shockwaves across the country and an outpouring for support, with the Van Arsdales trying to get Jim buried at Ridge Park Cemetery in Marshall, a cemetery for humans. It was not allowed at the time, but the cemetery created a special grave right outside of the cemetery borders, which interestingly enough would eventually become a part of the cemetery as it expanded outwards. Indeed, it would become the cemetery’s most visited grave. In 1999, a memorial park in Marshall, Missouri, where he died, was built in his honor, complete with a bronze statue of Jim, and there is an annual event in the town called Jim the Wonder Dog Day. To this day no one has truly been able to explain the phenomena surrounding Jim, and he remains an amazing and touching story, as well as a cool little dog.

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