Jack never met a stick he wouldn't chew. (Warren Vieth)

It was Jack’s favorite prank.

Around 6:30 every morning, he would slip into our bedroom to see if we were awake and ready to feed him. If we weren’t, he had a backup plan to make us regret our neglect.


Jack would check the floor on Kathy’s side of the bed to see if she had shed her socks in the middle of the night. As often as not, she had.


Jack would steal one sock, exit the house through the doggy door, find a new spot in one of the flower beds, and carefully bury his treasure under an inch or two of soil and mulch.


He was a serial offender. After Kathy figured out why her socks kept disappearing, she and our granddaughter, Kylah, spent an hour or so digging around the edges of the flower beds with hoes. They found more than 30 socks, one pair of underwear and assorted dog toys. We have a lot of flower beds.

The supply of socks dried up. Jack moved on to other pursuits.

He was supposed to be a retriever. But his genetic legacy got scrambled somehow. Instead of fetching, he preferred pilfering. Jack dragged shoes, throw pillows and other household items through the dog door and distributed them around the yard. He once snatched a present from under the Christmas tree, took it outside and unwrapped it with his teeth.

Jack spent countless hours chasing squirrels and countless more barking his outrage at them from the bottom of the big pines in our backyard. He never caught one.

Ditto for the crows.

He halted all activities at noon every Saturday, threw back his head and howled like a timber wolf while the emergency sirens sounded their weekly tests.

As he got older and slower, he shoved his big head between our legs and pushed us toward the back door so we would join him outside. If the weather was cool and he felt frisky, he would grab a stick and invite us to chase him. If it was hot, he would lie down, monitor the perimeter of the yard for intruders, and keep an eye on us to make sure we didn’t go back inside.

Perhaps his favorite pastime, besides eating, involved chewing on sticks. Big sticks. Small logs even. He tossed them around, then devoured them. He had remarkably clean teeth.

Jack was a gentle giant. Half black lab, half black bear, he topped out at 127 pounds. He was so big he startled strangers, some of whom became visibly fearful in his presence. Yet he was so mild-mannered that a friend’s feisty Yorkie could back him into a corner and keep him corralled there.

We thought about giving him the middle name of Hodor. He was that gentle.

Who was training whom?

With a lot of work, Jack managed to earn the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen certificate. It wasn’t easy, because the final test included a paw inspection. Jack had an extreme phobia about anyone touching his front paws. After an initial failure, we persuaded the tester to let us give him a doggy tranquilizer before his second tryout. Jack got sufficiently blissed out to shake hands with anybody.

But the real training was taking place in reverse. Not content with a two-meal-a-day feeding regimen, Jack convinced us that if we were going to eat lunch every day, so should he. Next came the food toppers. He cajoled Kathy into adding canned chicken to his dry food, then tuna, then Vienna sausages. After that came mandatory snack sharing. Jack could hear the crackle of food wrappers from anywhere in our house. He would materialize immediately, fixing us with that imploring gaze we couldn’t ignore. Nonni’s biscottis were among his favorites.

His final conquest was our bed. For most of his life, Jack had preferred to sleep elsewhere in the house. But a couple of years ago, he started jumping in bed with us and parking himself at the foot of Kathy’s side of the mattress. Once there, he transformed himself into a 120-pound sandbag, impossible to budge. Kathy learned to sleep catty-cornered.

One of our friends who had cancer told us that when he died, he wanted to be reincarnated as Jack. “He gets three meals a day, has his own bedroom and a big-screen TV,” Charles observed. It was more or less true. For a time, Jack had claimed the guest bedroom as his own.

Our son, Will, observed simply: “Jack won the dog lottery.”

All dogs create heaven

Like every dog that shared its life with us, Jack was somebody else’s castoff. His previous owners said they couldn’t keep him because they were moving from the country to an apartment in town. We suspected the story was a ruse, that they had decided to give him away after taking a good look at his size 32 puppy paws.

Jack was a large dog who tried to give squirrels the business. (Warren Vieth)

When we asked them if Jack had any favorite toys or maybe a blanket we could take with us, they were stumped. Well, they said finally, he has a shoe. It was someone’s discarded rubber clog. Jack’s only possession.

Jack was 8 months old when he moved in with us.

He was almost 10 when we decided an emergency trip to the vet hospital was necessary because he had been in extreme physical distress for about 36 hours. We had no idea why, and he wasn’t getting better.

The diagnosis was quick and brutal. He had a tumorous mass in his abdomen that had grown so large it was blocking his intestinal tract. He was bleeding internally. The vet recommended immediate euthanasia.

We said goodbye to Jack at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 30. As the veterinarian administered the cocktail, we lay by his side on the floor, patted his head, rubbed his flank and assured him that, yes, he really, truly was the best dog ever.

Years ago, the late Rev. Carlton Pearson of Tulsa infuriated some evangelical Christians by questioning the existence of hell as a place of eternal torment. He had concluded that hell was something we experience here on earth because of our own flawed behavior.

I have come to believe that the flip side is true as well. Heaven is something we have the opportunity to experience during our brief lifetimes on this planet.

I believe dogs help us see it.

Dogs model behavior at its best: Loving. Loyal. Trusting. Exuberant. Focused entirely on the present moment. No reason to rehash the past or fret about the future.

Of this I am certain. Jack was my equal. He was just as important in the grand scheme of things as I am. His life was just as purposeful in its own way.

At the vet hospital, Kathy and I decided to forgo having Jack’s ashes returned to us in an urn. We opted instead for a plaster cast of his paw print. I hope they have a big enough mold.

One day, I’m sure one of us will be raking the flower beds and discover yet another hidden sock.

When that happens, I hope I can laugh along with Jack at the perfect prank he pulled years ago.

I plan to place his plaster paw print there as a reminder of all that’s noble and grand in this world.

Warren Vieth is a retired journalist with nearly 40 years of reporting, editing and teaching experience that took him from Oklahoma to Washington D.C. and back again. He joined the board of directors for the Sustainable Journalism Foundation — which oversees NonDoc — in January 2021.