It goes without saying that we love learning about animals. Our world is filled with fascinating creatures that leave us in awe and remind us that we are just one piece of a massive ecological puzzle. Whether it’s unusual species or just an unbelievable specimen, there is a ton of education that comes with each story. Many of our trips have landed us in destinations with amazing zoological parks, but we also find satisfaction in other types of animal stories. When we heard that The Wonder Dog of Marshall was just a short drive from Kansas City, you know we had to add a visit.
One of a Kind Museum
The Wonder Dog of Marshall is certainly a well-documented story. In fact, we were wondering how it took us so long to hear about it. Arriving in Marshall, we made our way to the town square, where Jim the Wonder Dog Museum resides. We were a little early, so we started our visit to the memorial garden. At first, we thought it odd that a city would construct this type of memorial for a hunting dog. The walled garden is guarded by a brick wall with an impressive wrought-iron fence. Stepping toward the garden entrance, you find a bronze statue of Jim the Wonder Dog framed by the gate. Clearly, this canine made a lasting impression on the citizens of the city. After learning more about the exceptional hound, we would find ourselves impressed, as well.
The garden is a tranquil spot filled with lush landscaping. Our visit was mid-summer, so many of the plants were in full bloom. An oval path leads visitors around the small park and there are a few spots to sit and soak in the sights. From just about anywhere in the garden you can see the elevated sculpture of Jim. Of course, while he is the star of the show, much thought and attention has been put into making the garden a lovely place to loiter. Along the path, there are stations that each hold a part of Jim’s story. This is where it moves from a beloved pet to an uncanny canine.
The Wonder Dog of Marshall
To understand the Wonder Dog of Marshall we need to travel back to the mid-1920s. Our country was in the midst of the Great Depression. The economy was in shambles and people were barely scraping by. When the story of an amazing dog in Marshall began to circulate, it captured the attention of a populace starved for positive news. What could be more fascinating than a loyal pet that appeared to have some version of psychic abilities? While Jim seemed like a standard Lewellyn Setter, he was blessed with senses keener than most humans. While he refused the training of his owner Sam VanArsdale, his ability to root out birds would make him a favorite. Sam first noticed his abilities during a hunting trip, when the dog was able to identify various species of trees.
A Ruff Life
Over time, Jim’s abilities spread beyond hunting, to everyday life. He had a knack for pointing out vehicles by license number, color, or model. When Sam asked him to pick people out of a crowd, he was spot-on with his ability to determine which one “sells hardware” or is a “visitor from Kansas City”. He picked the correct girl from a group that was all wearing red dresses, but only after his owner added the instruction that it was the one with a polka-dotted bow in her hair. While just a coincidence, it was altogether fitting that Sam was the owner of the Ruff Hotel in Marshall, Missouri. With time, Jim’s accomplishments became known beyond the borders of Missouri. Stories about this remarkable mongrel were picked up by Field and Stream, as well as being featured by Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
Not Just Man’s Best Friend
This miraculous mutt charmed most people that he met. Having a chance to witness some of the astounding tasks that Jim performed was free entertainment. Being a time when people were struggling anyway, this most likely added to his fast-rising fame. While Sam spent a lot of time with his hunting partner, Mrs. VanArsdale also had a special relationship with their dog. She found Jim to be at peace with life and had a quiet demeanor. It was one of the paintings she made of Jim that would be used for the statue we found in the garden. Like many larger breeds, Jim had a relatively short life span. He passed at the age of 12 years old and although they tried, the family was not allowed to bury him in the family plot at the local cemetery. Jim would get the final satisfaction when the cemetery had to enlarge. The new border was moved to a position that put him well within the grounds.
Keep Searching for New Experiences
Learning about the Wonder Dog of Marshall was a great addition to our animal adventures. While many of our experiences are hands-on, like getting to feed Okapi, we also find satisfaction in the behind-the-scenes stories that are found all around us. The stories of this remarkable hound sound almost magical and invite skepticism and doubt. For us, we like to believe that Jim the Wonder Dog was a special gift that came along when people needed him the most. Even 80 years later it is a story that warms the heart.