Jack the Dog Dowdell, 1994-2009

By Stephen Dowdell, April 2009, Updated February 2015

Jack the Dog Dowdell died at 11:58 a.m., March 16, 2009. He died under the care of a veterinarian, from a lovingly administered overdose of barbiturates. One can assume that if he felt anything at all at the time, it was good.

Jack was born in October of 1994, and was rescued from the streets by the ASPCA as a very small pup, reportedly foraging on his own along Stanley Avenue in Brooklyn, N.Y. At 12 weeks, he was put up for adoption at the ASPCA animal shelter on Staten Island, N.Y., where he met and seduced Eva Marie and Stephen Dowdell, a young couple who claimed they had gone to the shelter as an excuse to avoid Christmas shopping.

At the time, Jack had a skin disease that required painful bathing treatments. An acute distaste for baths stayed with him his entire life, and he only tolerated them in order to make his humans happy and to continue to be fed. Still, he was generally fastidious for a dog, except for a few instances of finding dead fish at the shore of a lake and rubbing their stink onto his fur.

Jack was a mutt, exhibiting physical characteristics of the Labrador Retriever and Pit Bull breeds. He was mostly black, with smooth fur that curled slightly when wet. His markings were white, including a swath down his chest and at the tips of three of his paws. His demeanor was one of confidence and independence, as well as good humor and intelligence. Overall, the effect was that of a man-about-town in tux and spats, but with a hardened edge that would make a tough think twice about attempting to roll him.


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Indeed, Jack was the classic Alpha male. In the early weeks of his adoption, he was what his behavioral trainer, a Vietnam vet and military guard dog trainer, would call “a terror.” The advice: “Get this dog fixed as soon as you can.” Even as a young puppy and skinny adolescent, he would bound into the neighborhood dog run crowd—first at Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island and later in Prospect Park, Brooklyn—to find the biggest male on the scene and “get into his face” to establish his position in the order.

At the same time, he exhibited a strong streak of loyalty to those he learned he could trust, and who had earned the status of a member of his pack. Such humans and dogs from the old days could always count on Jack’s instant acceptance, affection and respect, even years later.

Jack was also a self-taught watchdog. When he would arrive at a location, he typically would assess the immediate territory that needed to be protected, and establish a protective perimeter within which no unwelcome entity, man nor beast, would be allowed to enter. It was his way of feeling safe, and of keeping his inner circle protected. While other dogs, including his adopted brother Sam, would typically end up clamoring to be inside with their humans, Jack often was most at ease on the outside, keeping watch, for long stretches of time.

On walks, he was also adept at spotting dirt bags and miscreants, and keeping them at arms’ length. His “freakometer” was well tuned. Still, he never deliberately bit anyone, except for Sam I Am once during the first 24 hours of their time together to firmly establish his dominance and a possum who’d invaded one of his safe zones and was too slow to get away.

In his younger years, Jack showed athletic talent as a tireless tennis ball chaser, duck hunter, soccer player and wrestler, and was known to catapult up onto beds in the morning when it was time for his humans to prepare his breakfast. Throughout his life he displayed a mischievous sense of humor, which at times led to a shoe being chewed beyond usefulness or a car stick shift or a plastic dish being permanently scarred. But he also knew how to make his humans laugh, and in particular could elicit giggles from Eva at will, up until the very end.

Given his independent nature, his kisses were rare, and when bestowed, they were like gold.

Jack the Dog is survived by the members of his innermost pack, including his human parents Eva and Stephen, his brother Sam; his grandhumans Momma Kleist and Momma and Poppa Dowdell; his Aunt Sue, and a small number of other aunts and uncles to whom he offered his lifetime devotion.

And possibly, by that squirrel who used to make faces at him from just outside the kitchen window.

Stephen Dowdell is a journalist and freelance writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his wife Eva Marie Dowdell and dog, Sam I Am Dowdell.