In the opening sequence of “The Thing” — John Carpenter’s 1982 science fiction horror film — a man in a helicopter shoots at a canine running across a snowy expanse. In the film, the dog is not what he initially appears to be, leading the plot to unfurl in a disturbing, grisly manner.

But in real life, the cross-bred canine was known as Jed, and was initially adopted and owned by a local man before appearing in several prominent Hollywood films.

A Well-Trained Pooch

Gary Winkler — a Bellingham resident who previously owned and trained sled dogs that appeared in films, television shows, and commercials — is the man who allegedly first owned Jed.

Winkler, who suffered a brain injury while his dogs were being used in the Paul Walker film “Eight Below” (2006), says he has memory issues and doesn’t recall picking Jed up from the Whatcom Humane Society where he was supposedly born in 1977. Nevertheless, Internet searches about Jed frequently cite the dog as being born here, the offspring of a captive Vancouver Island-born timber wolf and a Juneau, Alaska malamute dog.

Winkler supposedly adopted and owned Jed until around 1981, when he gave the dog to cinematic animal trainer Clint Rowe. Rowe trained dogs for several well-known films, including the 1986 Nick Nolte movie “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and 1989’s “Turner & Hooch,” a Tom Hanks film.

After acquiring Jed, Rowe trained the dog for Carpenter’s version of “The Thing,” which was filmed in Alaska, British Columbia, and on the Universal Studios lot in 1981. In the director’s commentary for “The Thing,” Carpenter says that once Jed got to know the crew, he was magic with the cameras rolling.

“You could do a dolly shot with him and he would not look at the camera, or the director, or the crew,” Carpenter says. “Amazing work for an animal. He was really, really good.”

Actor Richard Masar, who became friendly with Jed, said the dog was initially rather spooky due to the dominant wolf traits in his breeding. The moment Jed became uncomfortable, Masar says, he would engage in a particularly unnerving kind of stare. 

“He did everything like a wolf,” Masar said in a documentary about the film. “He would never bark. He never growled.”

Purportedly born at Bellingham’s Whatcom Humane Society, Jed the wolfdog first appeared on-screen in John Carpenter’s classic 1982 sci-fi horror film “The Thing,” starring Kurt Russell.

Further Success and Legacy

In 1985, Jed was cast in “The Journey of Natty Gann,” a Disney flick set during the Depression, starring Meredith Salenger and John Cusack.

But it was his work in 1991’s “White Fang,” a live-action Disney adaptation of Jack London’s 1906 book, that Jed is particularly well-known for. Co-starring with a young Ethan Hawke, Jed made an impression on Hawke that has stuck with him decades later.

“This dog had a massive amount of integrity,” he said in a 2021 Variety article. “If I were to teach acting at Juilliard or one of these fancy schools, I would do a class with an animal. They don’t know they are acting, which is kind of the whole thing that [Marlon] Brando was going after.”

White Fang also put Jed on-set with another famous animal actor: “Bart the Bear.” The Kodiak brown bear, who also starred in the films “The Bear”(1988), “Legends of the Fall”(1994), and “The Edge” (1997), remains one of the most respected and iconic animal actors, even more than 20 years after his 2000 passing.

Jed stole the show in Disney’s “White Fang” in 1991, which co-starred a young Ethan Hawke.

Jed reprised his role in 1994’s “White Fang 2: Myth of the White Wolf,” before retiring to Rowe’s Acton, California animal sanctuary, where he died in June 1995. Friends of the dog took out a full-page ad in Variety to commemorate his death, according to a Los Angeles Times article.  

“Running at the head of the pack,” read the ad’s message. “Good luck on your next journey.”

After his death around 18 years of age, Jed’s remains were allegedly flown aboard a private aircraft back to Bellingham, where they were given back to Winkler for burial. Winkler can’t recall exactly where Jed is buried but says he’s many of his prized pooches have been laid to rest in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

“He had a great disposition,” Winkler says of Jed’s on-screen legacy. “He was definitely a natural-born sort of actor. You’d almost think he could read the script. He was that good.”

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