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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dexter 1997-2014

Today's post has nothing to do with collage or ephemera. It's all personal, but something I needed to write for therapeutic reasons. If you are a dog person, you will understand. I'll return to collage/ephemera/art-related posts soon. Art is also good therapy for grief...

Dexter and his humans, circa 1997

I didn’t want a dog. I wasn’t a dog person. I was happy with our cat.  But my husband has always loved dogs and my husband wanted a dog.

Working on a PTA project at Sue Choate’s house, I met her lovely miniature Schnauzer named Chloe. I came home and made an offhand comment about Sue’s small, sweet dog who didn’t bark and didn’t shed. Charley immediately decided that I might be willing to adopt a miniature Schnauzer.

Charley started scouring the classified ads for mini Schnauzers, and discovered that there were several available puppies for adoption at Regal Pets in the Chamblee Plaza Shopping Center, about 3 miles from our house.  I said no way. I would never get a dog from a pet store; they come from puppy mills and are probably not healthy. No way.

Can we just go look at them? he asked.  I reluctantly agreed to go. The four of us drove to the pet store, walked up to the cage and saw several adorable mini Schnauzer puppies.  A salt and pepper puppy was particularly lively and cute, and the owner suggested taking it behind the store to play with it. We did that for a few minutes, and I said, “He’s very cute, but we can’t buy a dog at a pet store,” and we walked out to get back in the car.

My son Brannon, 10 years old at the time, has huge brown eyes. In the parking lot, I watched those big brown eyes fill with tears. He and JC, 11, begged us to buy the puppy.

Charley said, “It’s up to your mother.”

If looks could kill, Charley would no longer be with us.

Ambushed, I said, “Here’s the deal. We get a written return authorization from the pet store. We take the dog directly to Dr. Bates to be checked out. If he isn’t healthy, he goes back. Clear?”  Clear, everyone said.

Dr. Bates said the puppy was a healthy little guy.  The boys named him Dexter.

I read about crate training, and we bought a crate and a little dog bed. And dog food. And dog toys. Dexter slept in the crate at night. In the morning after we took him outside, he would go into the crate and bring out his dog toys, one by one, and drop them in the den. He tried to bring his water bowl, too, but we said no.  Every night we would put Dexter to bed, along with his toy collection, in the crate. But he cried at night.  We decided he could sleep with us. He was a tiny little thing, and wouldn’t take up much room. He slept right between us, something else I swore would never happen. Never say never.

Casper was wary of him at first, but soon, they were napping together. Their relationship was so much fun to watch.

I bonded with Dexter like I never thought possible. When Charley and I watched television, Dexter sat in my lap and Casper, our cat, sat in Charley’s lap.  When Charley played tennis, Dexter waited by the tennis court and allowed all the neighborhood children to pet him. He loved riding in the car, so in mild weather, we took him with us on errands. When we went on road trips, we asked AAA to help find hotels that allowed pets.

All dog lovers have pet phrases they use with their dogs… We would always say, “Dexter, you are just the sweetest dog ever.”  On a road trip to Rhode Island, our friend Jim Nellis started saying, “Dexter, you are the Swedish!”  It stuck.

Dexter helped me adjust to the empty nest when the boys left for college. He was such great company, and I still had someone to talk to in the almost-empty house. He always made me smile when he did his cute little dance when I was about to reward him with a treat.

Casper died suddenly in 2006, and Dexter went into mourning. He lost interest in food; he didn’t want to go outdoors; he stayed on the couch, listless.  We had to do something, and what we did was get a second mini Schnauzer puppy, Daisy.

You know how you see pictures of dogs who look like they are smiling?  Well, we should have taken pictures of the dirty looks Dexter gave us when we brought that little pest of a puppy home. She pawed at him. She barked. She annoyed him. He was annoyed with her and annoyed with us for the disturbance. 

Dexter and Daisy couldn’t have been more different. Dexter was quiet and laid back. Daisy barked at anything and everything, even birds. Dexter’s only misbehavior was getting into the trash can when given the opportunity. On walks to the lake, Dexter trotted across the bridges; Daisy tromped through the mud below. Daisy dug holes in the yard, escaped the yard by squeezing under the fence, and rolled in stinky things whenever possible.  Despite their different personalities, just as Casper accepted Dexter, Dexter eventually began to accept Daisy. They even shared a food bowl without incident.

In 2007, I added a brick and mortar store to my internet art supply business. The dogs stayed at home when Charley would be home, but when Charley played golf or had other plans, I took Dexter and Daisy to work with me. They had dog beds, treats and toys there. They loved the staff, the customers, the UPS and FedEx drivers, the postman and the neighbors. I loved having them with me at work.

When JC visited from San Diego, he would call Dexter “the real dog” and Daisy “the other dog” or “the faux dog.”  He was affectionate with both dogs, and the nicknames always gave us a laugh.

On May 25, we celebrated Dexter’s 17th birthday. In June his health started failing. He began to move much more slowly and slept most of every day. This week he lost interest in food and water, and he is having trouble standing. We know that it is time to say goodbye, and it is so, so hard. The vet came to the house yesterday and we got one last hug in the front yard.  I can hardly breathe…

I didn’t want a dog. But Dexter – the real dog -- was the Swedish dog ever, and I will miss him so, so much.