Kevin Roeckl Portraits - HOME


Roeckl’s Black Jake
Therapy Dog

1985 - 1997

All photos and artwork © Kevin Roeckl

This article was written when the DOBERMAN ANNUAL asked me to write about Jake for their "Greats From The Past" feature in the 2002 issue.

A “Great from the Past”. It’s hard to think of Jake being in the past since I carry his beloved memory with me every day. But “Great” certainly describes him.
What was it that made Jake great? In his lifetime Jake did almost every kind of work that a dog can do, and did it well. He carried the outstanding attributes of the Doberman to the highest level. Jake excelled in beauty, intelligence, and courage, and with his many other talents he was a companion beyond compare.

When I acquired Jake I knew virtually nothing about Dobermans. I had never even owned a dog before. I knew only one other Doberman, and I decided to get one because I thought they were the most beautiful dogs I had ever seen. Little did I know that I was in for the ride of my life.

I intended to purchase a pup from the newspaper, thinking that a purebred dog would cost me about $50. I was visiting my folks in southern California and I heard about a litter of three black males sired by a Champion. I was shocked at the price, but when I went to see the litter, big, healthy, shiny pups, their quality was unmistakeable even to my untrained eyes. I picked out the puppy with the blue collar because I like blue.

I was spending two winter months in the bustling resort towns of southern California: visiting friends and family, hiking on the beaches, sipping coffee in sidewalk cafes. Young Jake, an outgoing little boy who loved people, went everywhere with me. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the best possible socialization a dog could have.


Jake with a young friend on the Laguna Beach boardwalk


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The scenery of Jake’s life changed dramatically when we went home. I am an artist by profession. At that time I was living on a very remote part of the northern California coast, where I enjoyed the solitude to create paintings which I shipped to galleries. Jake came to live with me on a mountaintop overlooking one of the most wild and rugged parts of the Pacific coast, known as “The Lost Coast”.

Below: Kevin and Jake (age 2) near their home on the Lost Coast.


Our nearest neighbor was over a mile away. Jake came to be my companion and partner, a dog who would go for help if I was injured in that remote forest, run beside my motorcycle on the five-mile trip down the rough headland to the beach, protect my elderly cat from bobcats and cougars.

By the time Jake was two, he was doing all those things and more. His endurance was astonishing. Jake was a big dog, 29 inches, and had grown up to be extremely powerful. But he had a grace and elegance that made him pure poetry to watch. From the time Jake was a little puppy he possessed marvelous coordination. He never slipped off-balance, never put a foot down wrong, even in the most extreme demands of athleticism. I have never witnessed another dog with the perfect combination of grace and power that made Jake magnificent.


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The nearest town on the Lost Coast was Petrolia, a tiny ranching community nestled in the beautiful green Mattole valley. The Mattole River, a scenic river of gravel rapids and deep sinks, perfect for swimming in the summertime. Jake and I often hiked the ten miles to Petrolia and back. We explored the rugged coastal terrain, tried new things, pushed limits. I was adventurous and fit, testing my manhood.

Jake, my capable partner, was given many opportunities to prove his potential.
Jake performed a real-life version of the things dogs are tested on when they compete in Obedience, Agility, Tracking, Field Trials, and Lure Coursing. Dogs in the Agility ring have far more room for error than when Jake was asked to jump high barbed wire fences, while I climbed over the gates. 


No Obedience dog has fetched a dumbell as heavy or challenging as when Jake brought garden-shears to me up on a ladder, or carried a small suitcase through a busy airport. Jake had a great will to work. When he was asked to do something, he would listen intently, making sure he had every bit of information, then go off immediately to perform the task, and come back when it was done. He prided himself on doing his work with perfection.

Many times Jake used his scenting ability (and deductive reasoning) to find lost items , like car keys that were misplaced at a picnic. He was invaluable to me in locating our cat who was allowed to get out of our car at Rest Areas when we traveled, but who was not so fond of getting back in.


Carrying in groceries.


Rounding up Louie the cat.

These are just a few examples of the many services Jake performed, and the way he excelled at every type of work. He was used for real-life sight-hunting, and singlehandedly brought down three deer. He easily outswam Retrievers when going after sticks in the river, and tested his strength and confidence in rough ocean surf. Jake was an exceedingly powerful swimmer who demonstrated his swimming abilities in remarkable ways.......

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Jake was an exceedingly powerful swimmer who demonstrated his swimming abilities in remarkable ways. An incident that stands out in my mind is the time he was swept downstream in flood stage. In winter the placid Mattole became a churning brown torrent, with tree trunks and huge branches shooting down it faster than a man could run. 

One day, after a series of hard winter storms, I walked down to view the dramatic spectacle of the high water. A path that formerly had taken us onto the rocky river bar, now disappeared beneath muddy, lapping floodwaters.

Awestruck at how fast the turbulent water was racing by, I tossed out a stick to see how rapidly it would be carried past. Jake, who was standing behind me, thought the stick was thrown for him and without hesitation he leaped in after it. Instantly Jake was swept off by the current and within two or three seconds had disappeared from sight. There was nothing for me to do but stand in place, wondering if I would ever find Jake’s body, while the minutes crawled by like eternities. About ten minutes later there came Jake racing up the riverbank, dodging through the dense brush and half-submerged willows on his way back to me. It was one of many times Jake pulled off such feats. He seemed to go through life surrounded by a magic charm.

When he was about five, Jake tested his skills as a stock-dog on the working ranches of the Mattole Valley.....


Driving cattle on the Clark Ranch

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When he was about five, Jake tested his skills as a stock-dog on a sheep ranch. I had become friends with “Uncle Bob”, a feisty old character who had taken over the care of his brother’s ranch on the Lost Coast. There were about a hundred head of sheep scattered among the gullied hills, who saw human beings only a few times a year when they were abused by such procedures as ear notching, castration, and shearing. Consequently these sheep were not the mild-mannered creatures seen on television herding trials, they were almost wild animals. The rams, weighing as much as a man, could be quite dangerous. The ranch was equipped with several stockdogs, but they were so spooky and untrained they rarely left their kennels.

Uncle Bob had been doing his best to round up sheep with a Volkswagen Bug that bumped and slid over the rough ground. He needed help and we both thought it would be a kick to see what my talented Doberman could do as a stockdog. Bob and the VW and I helped as much as we could, but it was Jake’s job to gather the sheep from that challenging terrain into corrals and chutes for shearing.

Jake quickly figured out what was wanted, and he loved work that really put his stamina and drives to the test. Jake lacked a Border Collie’s instinct to circle a flock and keep them bunched together, but he had excellent driving instinct: the understanding to stay behind livestock to keep them moving in the right direction.


A ewe and her lamb running toward the deep ravine that gave Jeffrey Gulch Ranch it’s name.

Uncle Bob’s sheep had a bad habit of running into the deep gulch that split the ranch, to avoid capture. Once they got into the dense underbrush in that ravine, it was almost impossible to get them out. Jake took that as a personal challenge. I needed all my handling skills to call him off, especially at long distances and so keyed-up. But he was an excellently controllable working dog, with a very definite “off” switch.

In the open, when he got frustrated with sheep who wouldn’t drive in the direction he wanted them, Jake would simply overtake a fleeing sheep and bring it to a halt. It’s considered a no-no for a stockdog to ever “grip” the stock. But Jake had a purely Doberman style of herding. It was exciting to see Jake, in a dead run, grab a hundred pound ewe by the neck and throw her to the ground. One way or another, Jake got all the sheep in the corral.

Sheep gathered in a corral by Jake, ready for shearing.


Years later, when I borrowed a sheep to serve as a lawnmower, Jake showed that he hadn’t forgotten what to do with a sheep. At eleven years of age, he drove the sheep all over our property with perfect control, showing off for his young daughter April, who stood in amazement with her eyes and mouth wide open.

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All of these accomplishments describe a talented dog who did justice to the standard of a working breed. But they say little about the joys of living with Jake as a friend and companion.

It may seem unbelievable after reading about his strong working drives, but Jake was gentle and sweet.

He loved everyone, and he had a charisma about him that drew others to him like a magnet, both human and animal.


Jake was off-lead most of the time, and he was welcome everywhere he went, his manner was so courteous and accomodating. He was a companion to be proud of. Jake had sensitivity and compassion, he was aware of everything that went on around him, and acted accordingly.


Jake’s sire was noted for producing extremely high intelligence, and Jake must have been the best of the lot. Again and again throughout his life he displayed a reasoning ability and understanding of language that was nothing short of amazing. Having Jake for a companion was like being with another person. A talented, creative person with a great sense of humor.

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Jake loved life, and more than anything he loved to have fun. 


Jake loved to put on a show, and when he provoked laughter he really poured it on. These shots show Jake clowning with a funny-shaped headstone at the Petrolia cemetary. In the third shot he is yodeling as he jumps over. It was impossible not to laugh.


Jake showed endless creativity in inventing little jokes. Like the time I was fixing dinner in the kitchen and asked him to take a piece of paper trash to the kindling box in the living room. Jake knew perfectly well where the kindling box was, so when I saw him disappear into the bathroom I went to look. I flipped on the light switch. Jake was standing there with a huge grin on his face. He had put the trash into the laundry basket. As soon as I saw it there he dived after it, tossing clothing out in all directions, and when he finally cornered that pesky trash in the bottom of the basket, he leaped on it, ran to the kindling box, and threw it in. Jake sure knew how to liven up a dull evening.