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Week 43: A Dog Named Dexter | Everyday Nostalgia


I was against the idea from the beginning.

“A dog?” I had asked. “Like a real one?”

Having never grown up with pets, the thought of owning one slightly frightened me—they just seemed like so much work. Aside from that fear, there were also all the reasons that floated around my head, the ones that told me why getting a dog would be so irresponsible: There was the house we lived in, the one that was already too small for us to begin with. There was the broken fence, the one that certainly wouldn’t be able to keep a four-legged friend contained in the yard. There was the fact that no one would be home to let it out during the day. There was the added expense of the pet deposit and food and all of the other costs associated with owning a dog.

Like I said, I was convinced this was a terrible idea.

Yet here I am, holding a three-pound puppy in my hands, staring into a set of midnight-drenched eyes that stand out so starkly against a sea of fluffy, cream-colored fur. It yawns, revealing a tiny eraser-pink tongue, and then happily begins to lick my hand. It feels like sandpaper, and it tickles.

I begin to laugh, and it is at that moment I know there is is absolutely no way I’m going to be able to say no now. This dog—the one that is wiggling in my hands and wiggling its way into my heart—is here to stay.

* * *

The night we brought him home, he gnawed on the corner of a Dex Yellow Pages phone book, an action that helped contribute to the selection of his name. Dexter—Dex for short—was a stray, so we weren’t sure what kind of puppy we had on our hands, but time turned him into beautiful, almost regal, dog. His face and body resembled a golden retriever, and his fur and tail, thick and fluffy and almost lion-like, was similar to a chow-chow’s.

At times, he was a handful: He pulled on his leash too much, and he loved to run away. He ate whole sticks of butter off the kitchen counter and other things he wasn’t supposed to, like table legs and plastic bowls and socks and underwear and the food off Zoey’s dinner plate. He regularly barked at anything that wasn’t human—other dogs and cats and squirrels and rabbits and raccoons. He loved being outside so much that trying to get him to come inside was a challenge, a trait that became especially exhausting during the middle of the night.

But Dexter’s sweetness overshadowed his moments of orneriness: He was playful and happy, and his tail constantly wagged. When he panted, his lips curled up into what appeared to be a smile. He was as tender and gentle as could be when Zoey came along. He loved cuddling and belly rubs and simply just being around the people he loved.

When Dex first came into our lives, he was just a dog. Yet the passage of time, as it often does with pets, quickly turned him into so much more: For 10 years, he was a companion. For 10 years, he was a friend.

But then, suddenly—seemingly out of nowhere—Dexter got sick.

After the cancer appeared, it spread fast across his face, along the bridge of his nose, stealing his vision along the way. Within a few months, he became a shell of the Dex we once knew.

This past week, sadly and heartbreakingly, our time together came to an end.

* * *

I go and see Dexter the day before he’s gone. Though he can’t see, when I call his name, he wags his tail and slowly finds his way over to me. When he reaches my side, there my hands are, petting his 10-year-old fur that is still streaked with the soft cream color he once wore as a puppy. There my eyes are, staring into his once-midnight colored ones, the ones now glazed over with white. And then there I am, kissing the crown of his head, burying my face into his neck, telling him goodbye.

* * *

When I pick Zoey up at school after Dexter has left us, I ask her how she’s doing. Although I don’t specifically ask her, she seems to know what I’m really asking about.

“I’m okay, Mommy,” she says, and though she smiles, her lips don’t curve up as high as they normally do. I can tell they are still laced with the leftover sadness of having to say goodbye to Dex just two days earlier.

“Are you sure?” I ask. I wrap my arms around Zoey, reminding her that if she wants to talk to me about this—or anything for that matter—she can.

Zoey gently pulls back from my embrace and then points to her chest.

“Mommy, did you know that even though our hearts are small there’s no limit to how much love they can hold?” She grabs my hand and places it back on her chest, covering it with her own.

“So even though he’s gone, he’s still here, safe with me in my heart. Just like how you’re there when we are apart.”

“Yes, Zoey, our hearts are amazing things,” I say as I fight back tears and pull her back into a hug. “And one of the most amazing things they can do is help us remember.”

And so there, wrapped in our hug, in the quiet moment the two of us have created—this moment of reverence for the sweet dog that Zoey and I both had the good fortune of calling our first pet—I remember:

Sadly saying goodbye to him on the day I moved out last year, but seeing him still wag his tail whenever he saw me afterward, even though those times were few and far between;

The way he would sit next to Zoey’s dinner chair when she was a toddler, waiting for the scraps of food, and watching her open her pudgy little hand, one she had filled up with treats just for him, and when he licked it, hearing her laugh at the way it tickled, just like I had done all those years ago;

Zoey, saying his name—one of the first words she spoke—and the way it sounded like Deh-ter, and how that Deh-ter became Dexter and then turned into Dexie, her very best friend;

Zoey, at only a few months old, trying hold his paw and the way she’d climb up on him like a jungle gym, and the way he would patiently let her do so;

The way he would lay on the big bay window, all day long, being the neighborhood’s friendly—but not so fierce—watchdog;

Me, lying next to him as he curved around my belly, keeping Zoey safe as she grew inside me, whispering my fears to him in quiet, dark, late night and early morning hours;

How he hopped across grass when he was a puppy because he didn’t like the way it felt on his paws;

The first time he tried to walk with a leash on and didn’t know how, the way he had stood on the sidewalk, unmoving, and then the way he sat down after half a block, tired from the effort;

Laying with him that first night as he whined for the mother he surely missed, and the helplessness I felt, not knowing how to best take care of him. The way he eventually calmed down and finally slept, and the way I stayed there watching him breathe, the way I would do five years later when Zoey arrived.

And as Zoey now shifts inside my arms, trying to get as close to me as she can, I remember that new spring day when a few pounds of fluffy white fur wiggled against my fingers, when two dark shining eyes stared up into my own. I remember the day I felt a space open up in my heart that was just the right size—and just the right shape—to hold a sweet dog named Dexter. It was a space that held him for a decade, and it is a space that will still hold him, safe with me now, and safe with me forever.

Let me know: Have you ever had to say goodbye to a beloved pet? What are your favorite memories of them?

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39 thoughts on “Week 43: A Dog Named Dexter | Everyday Nostalgia

  1. Dex was such a love. It has been a couple years since we said goodbye to Truffy. My favorite memories are how excited he was to see me come home. No one loved me more. I was so lucky to have him.

  2. I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your beloved dog. I can relate to all your words here. We brought a rescue pup home years ago and though she was a handful, was the perfect dog for our family. When we said bye to her, it was so painful and sad that I just couldn’t imagine getting another pup. After 6 years, I gave in this summer and we are back on the puppy path. These pets become a family member so fast. RIP Dex.

  3. Oh I just shed some tears for your sweet Dexter. I have been through this a few times with 2 family dogs and a kitty. All were equally hard. We have another dog now – he is 6 and was a rescue so we’ve just had him 2 1/2 years but he is seriously a key member of our family. I know how you are feeling and even though it hurts when they are gone it’s so worth it xo

  4. The loss of a pet is never easy. No matter how hard we fight it, they just make their way into our hearts. While I have not had to say good by to one of my personal dogs, I did have two long term medical fosters that have left me for the rainbow bridge. Both wiggled their way into our life and took a piece of my heart with them. So very sorry for your loss. Sending hugs and comforting hugs!

  5. Losing a pet is so hard. I’ve only been through it once so far with my childhood cat, and I had long moved out by the time she went over the bridge, but it was still painful and hard. Take as much time as you need to grieve. Sending you love.

  6. Oh man, this couldn’t have been easy. I’m so sorry for your loss. My husband’s family has a golden named Rosie. I was terrified of dogs before I met her. Now, I cannot imagine expanding my family without one. It’s crazy how much our pets become vital, integral parts of our families.

    Sending you so much love <3

  7. Oh, this post…

    Yes. I just… There’s no bond like the one we share with our furry companions, is there? As my dog gets up there in years, and his eyes begin to gloss over, I fear. I don’t ever want that day to come, but I can’t imagine a world without him in it, and feel so lucky to have spent even just a fraction of time together on this earth together.

    I’m so incredibly sorry for your loss and am sending all my love and good thoughts. Your daughter is such a wise soul. <3 <3 <3

  8. Oh man. I haven’t had to say goodbye to my sweet Eowyn yet. She turns 13 this Thursday. She was my “first born” and my son’s 2nd Mama. It has been so sweet and sad watching her grow old knowing she will cross the Bridge sooner than later. But, I am also enjoying all the time we have. My thoughts are with you. *hugs*

  9. I am so sorry to hear this! We had to say goodbye to our sweet Boston Terrier in May. He would have been 16 years old this summer. I still think about him and miss him every day.

  10. Oh my goodness I am so sorry. When I was in high school my parents got a golden (their second one). After five wonderful years, he too got cancer, and we made the decision to put him to sleep. I went with my parents when they did it, and it was the HARDEST thing I ever did. We have two cats and while I hope they still have a while with us, I know how hard it will be when they are gone. I feel your sadness friend. Sending you a hug now.

  11. Oh my gosh you have me in tears. I’ve never really had a pet growing up. Now we have a cat and 2 dogs, all rescues. I almost cry anytime I think about the day when we would have to say goodbye to any of them. I’m so sorry for the loss of your sweet pup <3

  12. I am so sorry for your loss, it is never easy. We had a golden years ago with the same thing, when she got sick she went downhill so fast. I had a cancer diagnosis with my Aussie at the beginning of this year. Thankfully, hers had not spread, but the tumor has come back. I’ve always said, humans don’t deserve dogs. There is nothing that I could ever do to deserve my Moo and the time we’ve had together. I am forever grateful.

  13. Could we ever really know what an impact an animal will have on us when we first meet? We’ve had to say goodbye to four sibling cats, the last of which happened just months ago. It was the precursor cat to those four that I want to tell you about.

    Pumpkin was with us just a short while. She was at the house before we moved in. It was her house, really. Only two of my girls had been born, and Pumpkin followed them around, her tortoiseshell fur a patchwork of oranges and browns.

    She contracted feline leukemia. We let her sleep in the garage, on a couch. We gave her medicine, a liquid that seemed to get everywhere, especially on the couch. Pumpkin eventually struggled to jump onto the couch, so I made steps for her out of boxes.

    And one day, she stopped trying. She ventured into the back of the garage looking for a dark, quiet resting place. That’s when I knew it was time. It was on my birthday, and I was sick as hell.

    I bid the girls to say goodbye to Pumpkin. “I’m not sure she’ll make it until you get home,” I said. I knew she wouldn’t. Although I didn’t tell the girls, I made the appointment. I didn’t want to wait another day – for Pumpkin’s sake, and Madison’s.

    See, Madison’s birthday is the day after mine.

    Years later, my friend Laurie in Australia, a clairvoyant, asked about a cat following my girls around. Leo, I thought. We’d just said goodbye to sweet Leo. Could Laurie have seen his spirit following my girls?

    “Not a tabby,” Laurie would say. “A tortoiseshell cat. She’s the one who still follows your girls around.”

    Ah, Pumpkin. I love that she’s stuck around.

  14. It’s so hard! But loving and being loved by them is so wonderful. As I write this, I’m snuggled in between Sophie & Tucker – the two dogs I wanted but Jon (my husband) wasn’t sure about except they picked him. 🙂 Within days he was as much of a goner as I was. That was ten years and so far this little brother and sister team are still healthy. . .but a day similar to yours will come. We will grieve deeply. Other dogs have come before these two and we still miss them. They attach themselves and like your Zoey said, ““So even though he’s gone, he’s still here, safe with me in my heart.” Thank you for sharing this part of your journey and your beloved Dex with us!

  15. So sorry to hear about Dex! Pets truly are part of the family. Those first months of trying to house break them can truly wear your last nerve, but then they give you those sad puppy dog eyes and you forget all about them pooping in the house just then. lol!! I lost my 10 year old boxer last November and I miss her soooo much! She was the best dog ever!

  16. Im not crying… 😢. We had to put a dog down not too long ago and it was such a sad moment for the whole family. We miss our little fur baby

  17. I’m sorry for your loss. I have unfortunately last a lot of pets in my time, and while losing one never gets easier, the good memories are still there. I think that’s so wonderful of your sweet daughter to remember this, too, and to know that a part of your beloved animal will always stay with you.

  18. So sorry for your families loss! It’s so hard loosing a beloved family pet, especially one that is taken too soon.

  19. Losing a pet is never easy, shortly after my husband and I got married the dog he had growing up died and I was surprised how hard it was on me even though I had only known him for a short time. It’s amazing the connection we can have with our pets and the comfort they can offer us.

  20. I’m so sorry for your loss. We just went through the same thing (also from cancer) in May, so I understand what you’re going through. It gets better, but it’s terrible.

  21. This is so beautifully written… I nearly cried throughout.
    My “puppy” passed away this year… His name was Rascal and he lived up to that! Always wildly excited about everything! Remained puppy-like all his 12 years of life.

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