Jim the Wonder Dog became famous in history for his hunting skills, intelligence and psychic abilities.
On March 10, 1925 a Llewellyn setter gave birth to a litter of seven puppies in Louisiana. The puppies, who were born of pureblood champion field stock, sold for a decent price - except for the runt of the litter. The ungainly looking pup was sold for about half the price and the buyer gave the dog as a joke to a fellow hunter named Sam Van Arsdale in West Plains, Missouri.
Van Arsdale worked with a trainer to train Jim to hunt. Jim didn't show much promise, as he laid in the shade watching the other dogs learn. However, apparently Jim was paying attention. When taken to the field for the first time to hunt quail, Jim knew exactly what to do. He immediately went to a covey of quail, came to a perfect point, held steady until a bird was shot, and brought the bird to Van Arsdale when commanded to fetch. In fact, Jim had a sense where the quail were and refused to hunt if there were no birds in the area. The two traveled from state to state on hunts, and Jim fetched more than 5,000 birds during his hunting career, more than any other dog. He was termed "The Hunting Dog of the Century" by Missouri Life and Missouri Conservationist magazines.
One hot day, while on a hunt, Van Arsdale told Jim they should rest a bit under a hickory tree. To his surprise, the dog went right to the hickory tree which stood among other types of trees. To satisfy his curiosity of whether or not Jim really understood what he said, Van Arsdale told the dog to go to other specific trees, which he did perfectly.
Realizing there was something special about Jim, Van Arsdale began asking his dog to locate other objects, like a red car. Not only was he able to spot a car of certain color, or even a car with a specific license plate number, he was able to answer questions like "What made Henry Ford rich?" by walking over to a Model-T Ford. He was also accurate at picking out people, like a lady in a blue dress. While visiting a town they have never been, Van Arsdale asked Jim in front of a crowd of people "What would I do if I had a stomach ache?" Jim walked over to the town physician and nudged the doctor gently. Jim even amazed his master when someone in the crowd said something in French. Jim walked over to a man and began nudging him. "What did you say to Jim?" Van Arsdale asked the man who spoke. He replied "I asked if there was a Bible in the crowd". The man Jim nudged was a minister, who pulled out a small Testament from his inside coat pocket. It was later learned that Jim could understand commands in other languages, including Spanish, Italian, German and Greek.
Van Arsdale was invited to Jefferson City to demonstrate Jim's powers before a joint session of the Missouri legislature. The legislators were impressed with Jim's accuracy, especially when the commands were given in shorthand and in Morse code.
The press was fascinated by what they witnessed, and Jim's story spread across the US. He was known as Jim the Wonder Dog, and was even featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not.
Van Arsdale also discovered his dog was capable of predicting the outcome of future events. He was able to foretell the gender of unborn babies, the victors of the 1936 presidential election and World Series, and the winner of the Kentucky Derby for seven straight years (Jim's predictions of the derby winners were locked in a safe and revealed after the races). Van Arsdale refused to take advantage of his dog's knowledge by betting or allowing others to reap a profit from Jim's uncanny ability. He kept Jim close by, always worried that gambling interests would steal his dog. He even turned down a substantial amount of money from Paramount and a dog food company just so he could keep his beloved dog nearby. Besides, he did not wish to profit in any way on the talent he considered to be God-given.
Curious to how and why Jim could perform as he did, Van Arsdale took Jim to the University of Missouri to be tested. Dr. Durant, the head of the School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Dickinson, another respected animal scientist, and others including psychiatrists from Washington University in St. Louis participated in the study. To start, Durant gave Jim a thorough medical examination. He determined Jim to be like any other Llewellyn setter with a few exceptions: a wider than normal span across the brow, a greater distance from the brow to the top of the head, and unusual (large, piercing, human-like) eyes. The next step was to have Jim perform before several hundred students, professors and on-lookers as well as a Paramount News team. Jim was asked many questions by Van Arsdale and language professors. He was unable to answer only one when a faculty member asked him to find a boy who had just had a permanent wave made to his hair - the embarrassed kid ran away before Jim could get to him. Everyone was amazed with Jim's abilities, including Durant who had been skeptical about the whole thing. Surely, a hoaxer couldn’t master a half-dozen languages. The professors concluded Jim possessed an occult power that might never come again to a dog in many generations.
Jim passed away on March 18, 1937 at the age of 12. Van Arsdale considered Jim one of the family and requested that he be buried in the family plot in the Ridge Park Cemetery in Marshall. The authorities would not allow it but they did agree to let him be buried just outside the cemetery fence with a grave stone, "since Jim was smarter than most people in here, anyhow." The cemetery eventually grew, expanding around Jim. Caretakers say his is the most visited grave there and is seldom without flowers and coins left on it.
In 1999, a small town garden was dedicated to Jim the Wonder Dog.