Sunday, November 07, 2004

T. Jackson Powell:
The Greatest Dog in the World

If it wasn’t for David I may not have met him. Though my friend Briony offers another perspective: she says that we don’t pick our dogs, they pick us.

I think Briony is right, though I am eternally grateful for the role David played too.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1996 a little puppy picked David and me as his new parents. He was just seven and a half weeks old. On that day we brought him home to our house in Lindon, Utah. We had about sixteen people over to celebrate Thanksgiving, which needless to say overwhelmed this little puppy who curled up in a corner and waited for the crowd to disburse.

The pup was born in Provo on October 16, 1996. His mother was a registered Great Pyrenees, though she was small for that breed so she may have been a mix. His father was a dog from a one night stand. Steve Hegerhorst, who had the mother and saw the father run off after doing the deed, said he was a Golden Retriever.

We named the pup T. Jackson Powell. I insisted that this was a puppy who was more than important enough to have a proper name. David came up with Jackson, after Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The T. was for Thanksgiving in honor of both the day Jackson entered our lives and the feeling we felt in having him join our family. Powell was after John Wesley Powell, the nineteenth century explorer and policy maker. Powell led the first expedition down the Colorado River in 1869. He created the Bureau of Ethnology which studied and documented the cultures of American Indians. He also was the head of the U.S. Geological Survey from 1881 to 1894.

Our little Jackson was a gorgeous puppy who only got better looking as he grew up.

We took him to puppy pre-school at our local Petsmart. He won the best in class award, beating out Donny Osmond’s Black Lab. We were so focused on our little guy that it took us three classes before we finally realized that yes that was the guy from television in our obedience class with us. We considered the Osmond puppy unruly.

Like John Wesley Powell, Jackson led an adventurous life--flying on airplanes and traveling tens of thousands of miles in cars, mostly our 1997 Subaru. He went on ferry’s, slept on sail boats, went motor-boating, and camping. He was a willing and eager explorer, as long as someone was close by--usually me. We spent many many hours hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing. He spent over three years of his life living on three different farms (including a ranch) where he roamed with total freedom.

Jackson called four states home for nine months or more. These were Utah, Ohio, Virginia, and Arizona. He also visited at least twenty other states and the District of Columbia, as well as Canada. The stupidest move of his life was when he nearly leaped into the rushing water at the top of Niagara Falls, a move that could have also taken me with him either accidentally as I was holding his leash, or in desperation to save him. We had just parked the Subaru and walked toward the noise of the falls, somewhat oblivious to our exact location. We approached a stone wall, and for a reason I will never understand Jackson leapt on top of this little wall which couldn’t have been more than six inches wide. On the other side was a twenty to thirty foot drop to the Niagara River, just before it plunges 170 feet. While I was unnerved by him nearly going into the cataract below, neither he nor I realized how close we were to the top of the falls until a few minutes after the incident.

As my friend Kevin Cromer observed, Jackson was regal and majestic. He seemed to know how good looking he was even though his real beauty came from within. Though he could be a little snooty with other dogs, he loved any person who was open to giving him a chance. With dogs he was usually the alpha. With people, he was putty, doing whatever it took to get attention and to give his love. Though once he was in command of his human handlers his independence became evident and he had a determined stubborn streak.

Through the force of his personality Jackson created a world that served his every need. Jackson and I were apart for a few extened periods--though I visited him during those separations. During the times we were apart, he was living it up on my Mom’s farm in Ohio. Even when we lived together he rallied a small army of people to serve him for the parts of the day or week when I wasn’t available. If he wasn’t outside on some mini-adventure, he loved to stay close to me. When I worked at my computer he often crammed himself under my desk so he could be as close as possible.

Jackson meant the world to me, providing an anchor to my peripatetic life. Living up to his role as the ideal dog, his devotion was complete. No matter where I went, or how often I packed everything up and moved, he happily came along (though the moves did unnerve him, about as much as they unnerved me).

He was smart, gorgeous, and loving. Mostly, he was an easy dog to be around and to take care of. Quiet over ninety-five percent of the time, he had a distinctive, loud bark that he employed anytime he thought he heard something. Though they say a dog’s hearing is much more sensitive than ours, I am convinced he had the tendency to bark at ghosts on occasion. But maybe he really did hear those ghosts . . . .

The end of his life came far too suddenly, as well as too soon. I am still reeling by the events of the final two days of his life. He died on October 25, 2004 in Phoenix after we discovered cancer was running rampant inside of him. He had just turned eight.

Jackson owns a piece of my heart. He also earned a place in the hearts of many others.

Thank you Jackson--we miss you.

Woof, woof!

Jim Breitinger
Phoenix, Arizona

PS--See photos below, and below those a timeline of Jackson's life.

Bonded. (Photo by T. Alleman)

Soaking up some winter sun at Whiskey Creek Farm near the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley, December 2002. Posted by Hello

Hiking the Wasatch Mountains with Paula and Jim above Bear Hollow, near Park City, Utah, July 2002. Posted by Hello

Jackson and his sister Andromeda (Andy) in Lindon, Utah, December 1996. Posted by Hello

Jackson at about six months of age--always willing to go wherever I took him. (Photo taken in southern Utah by P. Moreira).

Jackson and Barney.

Timeline and Settings of Jackson’s Life

October 16, 1996 Born
Young pup with his litter in Provo, Utah till Thanksgiving Day 1996

November 1996 to May 1998
Raised by Jim and David in Lindon, Utah
Many trips to southern Utah

May 1998 to August 1999
Fly (alone) to Ohio
Living it up at August Hill Farm, Lexington, Ohio

August 1999 to early May of 2001
Fly back to Utah--August '99
Urban living in Salt Lake City at the base of Utah’s Capitol Hill
First goes to Urban Dog (now Dog Mode) in August ‘99
City Creek Canyon and the Bonneville Trail
Intra-Utah travel
Three trips to Montana
First trip to California June/July 2000

May 2001
Drives east from Utah to Ohio via I-80
Layover in Ohio at August Hill Farm for five weeks
On to Virginia via PA Turnpike

June/July 2001
Reunited with Jim in Virginia, on the road till late July:
From Virginia to Dutchess County, New York and Windrock Farm
On to Canada along the old Erie Canal route across NY
Stop at Niagara Falls
Overnight in downtown Toronto
On to Mackinac Island, Michigan going north around Lake Huron
South to Ohio
West to Utah via St. Louis and Denver

July to October 2001
Living with Jim, at friend’s between Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, Utah
Great hiking!
Side trip to San Francisco

Late October 2001 to December 15 2001
Jim and Jackson move to Barb’s in Summit Park, near Park City, Utah
Incredible hiking and running and rolling in the snow

December 15, 2001 to April 2002
Shipped off to Ohio again by plane--to August Hill Farm. Third extended visit in Ohio and second longest time away from Jim who was busy with the Olympics. Able to run free.

April to October 2002
Back with Jim, living at Barb's in Summit Park
In time for more cross country skiing before the snow melts
Lots of hiking in the mountains, woof!

Late October 2002
Drive east from Park City, Utah
Stops in Minneapolis, Mackinac Island, Ohio--Fox Hollow

November 2002 to August 1, 2003
Living in Berryville, Virginia
Life on the farm is kind of laid back

Early August 2003
Drive back to Utah
Stops in Ohio, Illinois (Doug, Nancy, Chopin and Co.), Colorado
Continue south from Utah to new home in Arizona

Mid-August 2003, to July 13, 2004
Roaming free at Beaver Creek Ranch
Trip to Utah (April ’04)
Tour the West: California, Oregon, Idaho, Utah (June ’04)

July 13 to October 25, 2004

Way too young to go!

Saturday, November 06, 2004

The End

Jackson’s life came to an abrupt end.

As late as Tuesday October 19 I didn’t notice any symptoms that he was sick. On Saturday, concerned because he wasn’t eating and wasn’t himself, I took him to the vet. Still, I wasn’t overly worried.

It turns out there was reason to be. They told me he had cancer. By the following Monday he was gone after an exploratory surgery confirmed the cancer and that it had already spread extensively.

The cards, emails, flowers, phone calls, etc. that I got from so many people after Jackson died made a huge difference for me. Thank you to everyone from me and in spirit—Jackson.

One of my favorite sentiments was from a relative in Flagstaff. She wrote “Someone once said that dogs' lives are shorter than humans because it takes a lifetime for people to learn how to love, dogs know from the beginning.”

My mother, who knew Jackson well, mirrored that sentiment. She said he was what we strive to be, a completely spiritually evolved being.

Everyone who saw Jackson and I together saw that we had a special bond. Some people didn’t necessarily understand it, I don’t know that I even understand it, but it was and is real.


In late 2002 Jackson and I moved to Summit Park near Park City, Utah. We rented part of a house from Barbara Felt, who also lived there with her daughter Megan. The following is from Barb:

The second week you were here, in the living room, you said "watch this. Jackson, go give Megan a kiss.” (Jackson got up and went right to Meg and gave her a big lick.)

“Now, Jackson, go shake Barbara’s hand." (He came straight to me with that huge paw outstretched).

We knew then that he was unusually humanlike.

Later there was that time when I took him running down the backside of Jeremy ranch on a leash that lasted about half the run, when he could not withhold any longer and decided if I was going to be on the other end of that leash, I was going in the river with him. I let go. He beamed.

Remember the day I though I’d lost him at the cabin on top? Well, he fooled me again. When you came to help rescue, there he was, waiting at the car.


Some more information I got from Steve, the guy we got Jackson from:

Jackson's mother was the daughter of two working sheep dogs who lived on a ranch somewhere in Utah. Her name is Oso, which means bear in Spanish. About a year ago she ran off during a storm and they were unable to find her, which was brutal for Steve and his family. Oso was terrified of loud noises and between the thunder and some fireworks that day she got scared and ran away. Despite an extensive search, they were unable to find her.

All of this explains a few things about Jackson. He loved to try to round up cars and trucks when he was roaming free on a ranch or farm. It was a strong instinct that was all but impossible to control. He also hated loud noises.

As far as Steve knew there are two siblings of Jackson's left in Provo, in the neighborhood where he was born. Their names are Cody and Sammy. We know of two other litter mates that were with their original [human] families for a year or less before moving on to other homes. We've lost track of them. Jackson's sister Andy died of cancer when she was still a pup.

On Jackson's second plane trip:

In a very generous offer, my friend Jim offered to fly me to Utah to visit him. Of course I accepted, willing to perform the deed required; I had to fly Jackson from Ohio to Salt Lake.

What a trip it was! Jackson and I drove to Cleveland. He had a very big crate. I gave him his sleepy drugs, kissed him on the nose, and off he went on the conveyor belt. I almost cried I was so worried about him travelling in the belly of the airplane. But off he went and I waited. And waited. And began watching the weather. Which got worse. And worse. And worse. Until finally my flight was cancelled. After much bantering with the clerks, they finally understood that I had to get Jackson out of baggage and back home until the next night, when it would be safe to fly. At last his crate appeared, but Jackson was at the height of sleepiness. He weighed a lot. It took every bit of strength I had, along with a helpful baggage handler, to get him out of the crate and into my pickup truck. He slept all the way home.

The next night the weather cleared and we were scheduled again. Fewer sleepy drugs (I had used most of them up the night before), crating, and waiting. I boarded the plane, making sure to get a seat where I could see the baggage being loaded. They wheeled Jackson out and I started to cry. Poor Jackson, directly down beneath me in with the baggage! Those droopy big brown eyes. I was a wreck and I started crying. I worried and fretted all the way to Salt Lake. Would he dehydrate? Would he have enough air? Would he feel sick and throw up? Was he being jostled or bumped?

None of the bad stuff happened and we made it to meet Jim. What a wonderful reunion for all three! The trip was awesome, with Jim showing me everything wonderful to be found in Salt Lake. A salty float in the lake after a wild thunderstorm had to be the highlight. Or maybe it was the hike among the aspens up on the mountain, with Jackson leading the way. Or walking through the downtown dog park with Jackson off the leash. The whole trip was absolutely amazing! Thank you Jim, and thank you Jackson.

Marijan Grogoza

[I never drugged Jackson again on his future plane trips. -JB]

If you have any good Jackson stories, please send me an email at utahredrock at