Love and Loss

RIP Dexter - October 22, 2011

My head is pounding but I can’t sleep. My eyes are red and swollen from crying and my heart aches with emptiness and sorrow. I sit here alone. My husband and I tried to laugh through Bad Teacher, me sipping on Santa Margherita and he drinking tequila on ice, anything to get us through this pain. We went up to bed together both ready to end this miserable day, but I can’t sleep. I lay in bed thinking that this could be my greatest loss to date. My racing thoughts become too much to bear and so I get up to sit downstairs alone. In the dark. It is so peaceful and quiet. I’ve lit candles as an ode to Dexter. I know he would be downstairs by my side right now instead of sleeping upstairs in his cozy bed. He would be worried about me.

The clock goes tick-tick-tick, and I can hear the Burlington Northern racing down the tracks as I’m snuggled on the sofa. I don’t know where to begin or where to end. I want this to be about my love for Dexter, I want to share many memories with you of a dog that brought so much joy into my life. But first I need to explain some things.

I never had any pets growing up. Well, I take that back. I had a bird named Petrie. He was tragically murdered in an awful situation that included him getting stepped on by my mom as she was walking into the kitchen with bags full of groceries. See Petrie used to fly and walk around our house. He would give us kisses and watch TV perched on our shoulder. He was a pretty awesome bird, and I remember coming home to find out he was murdered. I sort of say that to bug my mom because she gets so upset. She insists she didn’t murder Petrie. OK, mom, it was involuntary manslaughter then.

When I was 19 I decided to bring home a kitten. You know my parents loved that. My boyfriend at the time and I had the brilliant idea to get a 6-week old kitten. Kennedy – my partner in crime. She’s still with me today. She’s 12-years-old and feisty as ever. Kennedy has been with me through a lot. We’ve had a long road; we’ve essentially grown up together. I adore her. And no, she was not named after John F. Kennedy.

At 22 my boyfriend (now husband) and I brought in Kelsey, referred to as Kelse-Kelse. Oh where I do begin with Kelse-Kelse? Kelse is a black cat, but he’s as sweet as can be. I always refer to Kelse as my problem child. It’s like I got Kennedy who was the perfect being so I had the fab idea to get another cat, and we got Kelse-Kelse who we thought was a girl for 6 months but later found out was a boy when we took him in to get spayed and he came back neutered. That was pretty traumatic. Kelsey is also a dizzy cat. If you don’t know what a dizzy cat is, the short version is he’s a cat that can’t jump. He’s a wobbly sucker that walks like he’s drunk. The sad part is he runs into walls a lot so it can be difficult to watch at times. I do feel that we saved him though. The nasty man whose cat had kittens had had an infection which spread to Kelse. He was the only kitten who got it, and the only kitten left. I’m certain he was going to throw him on the street because no one would take the ugly little wobbly kitten. He is kind of ugly, but not to me because he’s mine.

Being a mommy to animals taught me about a new love, a different kind of love than I’d ever experienced. I now have such strong love and respect for animals. They love with their whole hearts. They are always there for you. They are always happy to see you.

So of course when I found out that my good friend’s sis needed someone to take Dexter I was open to the idea of a dog. I’d never had a dog, but for one week when my mom decided to get a puppy and then changed her mind and returned her while I was at school. My husband has had dogs his whole life and was ready for a dog as well. We liked the idea of an older dog that didn’t need to be potty trained and had grown up with cats. And that is how Dexter came into our lives. He’s been with us for about four years.

Back in July, right around Chiquita’s 1st birthday, we started to notice that Dexter didn’t have the spunk he used to have. He started urinating in the house. He started drinking water excessively. He lost 15 pounds in three short months. We knew something was wrong. After several vet visits, medications and continued accidents in our house we decided it was time. It was time to let go. To say good-bye to an amazing member of our family.

When I said above that this could be my greatest loss to date I don’t say that to disrespect the relatives I have lost. I say that because I am a very lucky girl who has lost a handful of relatives that had lived long and prosperous lives. I have lost people that I miss very much, but that I can look up to with fond memories. Losing Dexter is the first loss of a beloved pet (besides Petrie, who I still fondly remember despite the murder) and is the first loss in my life at the hands of me.

I was forced to make this awful decision this morning. I was supposed to go to the pumpkin farm with the Chiquita and my sister and nephew. I woke up to a beautiful and sunny Chicago fall day. We don’t have many of those days that make you truly happy to be alive. My intention was to go to my yoga class which I’ve sadly missed for the last month because of other commitments. I just got a lecture from my shrink about how important working out is for my “mental health” and how I “really need to make a commitment to help myself.” Today was going to be my official back to the gym moment followed by a coffee treat.

I’m getting Eva ready to go and know that we are cutting it close to the time that we need to leave. I’m stressing because I decide at that moment to strip Eva’s bed. Suddenly I hear water flowing. What the heck? I turn around to see Dexter’s leg up peeing right in Eva’s room. Right in front of me. Right in front of Eva. In the middle of her room. I lost it, I tell you. I completely lost it. I’m screaming at Dexter. I’m screaming at Eva. Eva starts crying, and I shoo them both out of the bedroom. Not my proudest moment.

I’m about to completely lose it so I go in my bedroom and sit on my bed. I take a deep breath. Dexter has been having accidents in my house for months. Pee, poop, vomit. It’s started to take a toll on us because our house stinks, and we got to a point where we were at our wit’s end. We were turning on each other – we being my husband and I. We were both hurt and angry knowing the end was near so it was much easier to just be mean to each other.

But, back to me on the bed ready to lose it. I call my mom crying hysterically, and she doesn’t answer her cell phone. I text my husband who is at work. I’m sitting there feeling sad, frustrated and alone. I’m crying my eyes out, and I completely snap. I pick up Eva’s bottle, and I throw it across the room where it hits the wall and then falls to the floor. Eva starts laughing. It was at that moment that I woke up. What was that? What kind of an example is this that I’m setting for my daughter? And she sees my flash of anger and frustration and she laughs? Does she think this is normal? You don’t know how badly I want to raise a normal and healthy young girl. I don’t want to raise an angry depressed basket case. I must put an end to this cycle! I must be for my daughter the person I want her to grow to be.

I decide to go to Dunkin Donuts as iced coffee is always my bright moment of the day. I’m crying in the drive-thru while I’m on the phone with my grandma, yes, a faux pas according to my drive-thru rules, and then I say to myself, you know what!? I’m going to Sally Beauty Supply to buy myself some hair extensions (PS I managed to get my extensions on sale for more than 50% off, sorry, probably not appropriate to mention that). Let me also mention that at this very moment Kelse-Kelse is lying next to me on the couch snoring away, maybe dreaming about Dexter. Awww.

We go into Sally and it’s 9:30 am. We both look like hot messes, me more so than Eva with red and swollen eyes and still in my pajamas. I say to the woman that we’ve had a very tough morning. This woman looks like she could care less, like I’m the most annoying person in the world. But, I don’t care. I had to get it out. Even though she’s a complete stranger.

And then she kindly said to me, “What happened honey?”

I’m holding Eva and explain the events of the morning. I tell her how I failed by losing it in front of my daughter, I tell her how I don’t want to put my dog to sleep but I don’t know what to do, I tell her how my husband and I are at each other’s throats, and I’m losing it all at this moment. She looks at me and she says this:

“You need to let go. He’s ready to go. He knows it’s time.” She tells me a story about her own dog, and how her dog started to pee in the house and got very ill. Her dog started to constantly be under her feet because she knew it was time. Dexter has been my shadow for the last month, I mean more so than usual. He’s under my feet every time I turn around. I’ve constantly had him or Eva walking on my heels. She’s telling me all this stuff and it’s like God is talking to me, He’s telling me “It’s time, Jen. It’s OK. You can let go. You’ve given Dexter a good life, and it’s time to let him go to doggie Heaven.”

That’s when I made the decision. I came home and called the vet. I hugged him and stopped being angry. I told him I loved him. I cried some more. I called his 1st mommy and asked her to come over and say good-bye. I asked my stepmom to pick up Eva so my husband and I could have the afternoon with Dexter. We took him for a long walk. We gave him treats.

And we were with him until the very end. I’ve never done anything like this before, and I was stronger than I imagined I could ever be. I was balling my eyes out don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t even sure if I could be in the room, but I felt like, what was I supposed to do? Just drop Dexter off and be like, see ya, and let him die alone? I couldn’t do that to him. I needed to be there no matter how difficult it was. And believe me it was difficult. The vet was so compassionate and sensitive to our loss. They took Dexter in the back to give him a shot to put him to sleep. He came back into the room and we laid with him on the floor until he fell asleep. We pet him and told him we loved him the entire time. And then the doctor came in to give him the shot to stop his heart and breathing. It was devastating but very quick. Seeing his breathing stop was weird. I’ve never seen a dead body in front of me before. I thought I would be scared or grossed out, but I wasn’t. It was Dexter. How could I be grossed out? It was my Doofy, as I nicknamed him, lying in front of me. We said our good-byes and walked out the door.

Dexter’s ashes will be spread in the Hinsdale cemetery. Despite my overwhelming sadness I feel a sense of peace. I know we did the right thing. I know we gave Dexter a good life. He was very loved by all of us. I’m sad that Eva won’t have the opportunity to remember him.

And now for a couple memories. Dexter was a “social butterfly” as his 1st mom put it this afternoon. We’d often find him sniffing around the neighbor’s yard. Luckily for us our neighbor absolutely loved Dexter and was also able to say good-bye today.

Dexter at one time was referred to as “Baxter” in a moment shortly after he came to our home. My husband had let him out and a neighbor walking by said, “What a beautiful dog, what’s his name?” My husband responded, “Baxter.” A second later he thought, wait, his name is not Baxter, it’s Dexter. But, he couldn’t bring himself to tell the woman so she would always refer to him as Baxter, and we would just smile and laugh to ourselves.

I loved to touch Dexter’s paws and he would always let me.

Dexter was very gentle with both cats and with Eva at all times. He never once acted aggressively towards them.

Dexter had a special charisma – even people that hated dogs loved Dexter.

Dexter was never a very good guard dog. Maybe it was his old age or maybe his gentle demeanor. We used to joke that we’d come home someday and our TV would be gone and Dexter would be upstairs snoring.

About a year ago we think Dexter had a stroke. I didn’t think I could handle the pain of losing him at 8 months pregnant, and God luckily gave us a little more time with him. Despite the hard year we had Dexter remained a loving and loyal friend. We went for countless walks over the summers.

Today when he could barely jump inside the car (my husband had to help him in) we knew we made the right decision. It was time to let go of our friend. I have faith that Dexter is in doggie Heaven finally catching the squirrels he was forever chasing. It is with extreme sadness that I say good-bye to my little Doofy. I love you, Dexter.

Me and Dexter on my 30th Birthday
Saying Good-bye