Jim didn’t start out as a “Wonder Dog”. He was just a little English setter pup from Louisiana, looking for a home. But if the legends are true – and who wants to doubt the legends of a psychic canine? – then Jim was not only a champion bird-dog, but a predictor of Kentucky Derby winners, the sex of unborn babies, the occupations of perfect strangers, and the 1936 World Series.
Born in 1925, Jim was known as a Llewellin setter, a particular type of English setter who are bred and trained to find birds in the field and then hold – or “set” – their position when they do. It’s a hard job, requiring lots of training, patience, a great nose, and some pretty keen dog smarts. Jim was famous for all of those, and to believe the stories, a whole lot more.
Jim made his way from his breeder in Louisiana to a man in Marshall, Missouri named Sam VanArsdale. VanArsdale owned a hotel in town, coincidentally called the Ruff Hotel, and Jim became his constant companion. He (Jim that is) showed remarkable skill, both on and off the field, and those who remember either seeing or hearing about his magic powers and almost human eyes, say that he could match people with their cars, understand both Morse code and commands in languages he’d never heard, paw out the answers to counting questions, and predict the future. Actual news accounts of his skills are scarce, but true or not, Jim was beloved by all who met him and stared into his soulful eyes.
Jim’s hometown of Marshall, Missouri is doing what it can to keep the legend of their celebrity dog alive. One result is Jim the Wonder Dog Memorial Garden, located where the Ruff Hotel once stood. In the center of the lush garden is a statue of Jim, surrounded by a series of panels telling his story. Next to the garden is a museum where you can learn more about Jim and his feats of mental acuity. Should you find the museum closed, you can still get your selfies in front of the huge mural on the side of the building.
The garden and museum are right off the town square, which is also where Jim the Wonder Dog Days are held annually in May. If you time it right, you might even see the hog dog eating contest.
Know Before You Go
The Jim the Wonder Dog Memorial Garden is in the center of Marshall, Missouri, which is about 70 miles east of Kansas City. Follow Rt. 65 north from I-70 for about 10 miles, and the garden is at the northwest corner of Lafayette and North Streets. In this small town there is plenty of free parking. After visiting the garden and museum, you can visit Jim’s grave about a mile and a half away in Ridgepark Cemetery at the end of E. Yerby Street. His grave is the one with all the dog treats and good luck pennies on it.