AN HOMAGE TO DEXTER… the best bad dog – ever.

Well… I lost my best dog, Dexter, yesterday.

I’m not quite ready to talk about it although I have come to terms with it.

I will say that I’ve known this was coming.  I have been preparing for his departure since I started seeing the signs… he went deaf,  he began walking like a very old dog and his eyes grew that bluish haze of elder statesman.  He remained sharp and his mind was active.  But, I knew he was slowly dying.

I just didn’t realize it would happen so fast.

Luckily, I told him I loved him every single day of his dastardly doggie life.

He was the most charming bad dog – ever.


The day he came home over 13 years ago, Dex’s attitude was, “I’m the puppy, gotta love me…”.

And he was right.

Puppy Dex was an Australian Kelpie at my local no-kill shelter.  He was adorable – conformed as if he was constructed from parts of 6 or 8 different dogs.  He had straight up ears – except for when one flopped.  His nose was long yet his head was square.  He had a body like a mac truck with slender sinewy legs.  At the rear, a very long, strong tail.   As he grew up, he looked like a dingo cattle dog from hell with a twinkle in his eye and a computer for a brain.

Dexter was a very unusual dog…  His devotion was beyond words, yet he left the premises every chance he got.  He loved to travel.  The grass was perpetually greener – there was always something to do and to learn on the outside.  The boy could scale a 6′ chain link fence, run for a day and saunter back in as if to say, “What?  I’m fine.  Shhuh.  I protect you, I can take care of myself.”

He was a cool cucumber with the face of an angel.  Girls who met him, melted.  He was the bad-boy charmer that you hope your daughter never brings home because you know he is no good but you won’t be able to help yourself from loving him…

That was Dex.

He loved me.  I knew he loved me.  But, he never, ever, not once, ever licked me.

That would have been beneath us both.

Baby Dex. Charming Hooligan in a puppy suit.

HUBBY writes a tribute for Dex

Hubby wanted to write a tribute to Dex…  Here you go:

I woke up suddenly at 3am, a common occurrence, and ran through the typical reasons in my head. The recurring Iraq dream? One too many glasses of wine?  Worries about my job? Worries about my girls? Ah, that’s right, I have to take Dexter in.  I lay in the dark, thinking that this would be the first time since Iraq that I’d be looking at the Reaper right in the face, by myself.

It had been a bad day in the Harrison household.  Dawn came in from feeding looking distraught and said Dexter was very sick.  He didn’t seem to be able to eat or drink without vomiting, and seemed to be in a lot of pain.  We headed off to the only vet in the area that is open on Sundays.  They checked him out, took some x-rays, and shrugged their shoulders, saying, “We’ll have the radiologist look over the films and let you know.”  We drove back home, and Dexter vomited in the car.  Later, the vet called with the worst possible news: it looked like a bowel obstruction.

Dexter was not the kind of dog that you would call “good.”  He was a Kelpie, an Australian breed used as cattle dogs and known for their intelligence and problem-solving skills.  Those qualities in a dog can be positively aggravating.  No fence could hold him if he wanted what was on the other side.  Even when he was old and arthritic, his constant goal was to explore farther, go somewhere he hadn’t been before.  He could be absolutely ruthless.  Neighborhood dogs lived only at his mercy.  He stalked and killed countless raccoons, turkeys, skunks, coyotes… You get the picture.  When Dawn talked to the animal psychic about our new llama, the communicator mentioned that there was a BAD DOG stalking the llama, and it made her very nervous.  “Ha!” I said to Dawn.  “Even the pet psychic knows your dog is bad!”

As I fumble through all of my photos, I can only find a few… this one is a mature Dex with all of his collars on – Invisible Fence collar, his tie-up collar and his embroidered collar with our phone number. He often scaled a 6′ chainlink fence to go on a sojourn. The boy was all muscle, grit and adventure.

One day, when we were living in Santa Cruz, I came home to find Dawn talking to a salesman that had a refrigerated truck.  They were joking and laughing, and Dawn told me about the fantastic deal she had just gotten: $500 for a freezer full of meat!  The guy eventually excused himself and drove off.  Once he was gone, Dawn collapsed on my shoulder, crying and telling me how afraid she was that the guy was going to sue us, so she bought all that cheap, low quality meat to placate him.  It turns out that he had come through the (closed) gates to our front door and had been bitten on the leg by some black dog that had silently stalked him, attacked, and ran off.  Hmmm… I’ll give you one guess as to who that stealth biter might have been.

Dawn loved him like he was her child.  He would disappear for days, and she would be beside herself.  When he finally came limping back (or we got a call from someone miles away who had found him), she treated him as the returning prodigal son.  She hated it when Dex would kill some poor animal, but never did anything to punish him for it.  I have to admit, sometimes I felt a pang of jealousy when it seemed like she was more concerned about Dex than me or our daughters.  Like the criminal who loves no one but his mother, he adored Dawn.  Nothing could ever compare to Dawn and his love for her.

Dex keeping watch. He was my protector. Everyone looked to him. If he barked – which was rare – we listened. He was so cool.  If he were a person, he would have been the Mickey Rourke character (“Boogie”) in Diner.

So it came as kind of a surprise when this distasteful job fell to me.  When Dawn told me about the bad news from the vet, I offered, not really expecting her to take me up on it.  I think she thought that he would somehow be okay, at least until later.  Maybe after preparing herself for the worst the day before, she was holding on to anything that might have pointed to a better outcome.  I told her I would take him to the vet, without really talking about what the result would be.  I just went and did.  What I did not realize until I was there in the exam room is just how difficult it would really be.

It wouldn’t be correct to call our relationship a love-hate one, more like a stepfather-stepson.  I would get so aggravated with Dex sometimes — he was a horrible influence on my dog.  Shiva, never the sharpest knife in the drawer, was all too willing to go along when Dex decided it was time to explore the next hill over.  We had collars embroidered with our phone number for the two of them, and that was how we ended up meeting many of our neighbors.  There was the time they ended up at a nearby vineyard (we joined the wine club), or when the people behind us up the hill found them (they are some of our best friends now), or the neighbor that we met when he and Dawn were simultaneously putting up “Lost Dog” flyers (or rather, she with a Lost Dog and he with a Found Dog).  Dex was the first of Dawn’s animals to accept me, the newcomer, and he taught me a great deal about being an animal owner.  When Dawn and I were still dating, and the mastiffs and the horses all hated me, Dex decided I was okay.  I was still working through a lot of issues I had following my time at war and Dexter helped, introducing me to to the absolutely unconditional love that dogs have, guiding me to my own dog.  Dex was aggravating, to be sure, but he was, like every dog, absolutely honest, honorable, and true.

His tail always wagging – a twinkle in his eyes…

After a couple of hours lying awake in bed, I went ahead and got up.  Dawn and I both wandered around the house like poorly constructed robots, not wanting to be aware of what was going to happen.  When Dex went outside, it was all too apparent.  He drank too much water, vomited it up, and fell over.  With a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, I hefted him into the back of the car and drove to the vet.  In too much pain to stand anymore, he splayed out on the floor in the waiting room, but was too proud to whimper.  After I carried him into the exam room and placed him on a blanket, he looked up at me.  Not pleading (he would never, ever beg), but asking me: Can you do something about this?

It was then that I nearly lost it.  I called Dawn at work and said, “I need to know I’m doing the right thing.”  I knew the answer, but it was good to hear her say it.  Shortly afterwards, the vet came in with a large syringe filled with pink liquid.

Then I actually did lose it.  Wracked with sobs, I held him close and listened to his breath.  He didn’t flinch when the needle went in.  I whispered in his ear, “Good boy, Dex.  Momma and I love you.  You are a very.  Very.  Good.  Boy.”  Dexter, ever the stoic, let out a deep sigh, as if he had found relief at last.  Then he was gone.  I stayed with him for a few minutes after the vet left, not wanting to leave but knowing that it was time.  I covered him with the blanket and turned off the light.

I will miss him very much.


Our boy, Dex. He made us better humans for having known him.


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HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth... if you like this, please pass it around!

29 comments have been posted...

  1. Brenda

    Wow I guess I needed that cuz I cant stop crying. My heart goes out to you both And I have been there whole heartedly where you are right now and it TOTALLY SUCKS THE BIG ONE!!!! But this was given to me by my Vet and although it made me cry even more it did help and I hope it does the same for you in knowing you did the right thing. Here goes:

    If it should be I grow frail and weak
    And pain prevents my peaceful sleep
    Then you must do what must be done
    When this last battle can’t be won
    You will be sad, I understand
    Selfishness might stay your hand
    But on this day more than the rest
    Your love and friendship take the test
    We’ve had so many happy years
    That whats to come can hold no fears
    You’d not want me to suffer. So,
    When the time comes please let me go
    Take me where my needs they’ll tend
    Only stay with me until the end
    Hold me firm and speak to me
    Until my eyes no longer see
    I know in time you too will see
    It is a kindness that you do for me
    Although my tail it’s last has waved
    From pain and suffering I’ve been saved
    Do not grieve it should be you
    Who must decide this thing to do
    We’ve been so close, we two, these years……
    Don’t let your heart hold any tears.

  2. Janie Dale

    Guys — so, so sorry. I am crying right now. I just sat down and realized I hadn’t read this yesterday, so I’m a day late in sending my heartfelt condolences. Dexter was a super lucky dog to have you both! Again, so very sorry.

  3. Rachel G.

    Thanks for sharing, this is heartbreaking. I have a twelve-year old GSD, number 6. When I lost my best dog, in 1987, I could not say it out loud for nearly six months. You both have said it better, in real words, and I thank you for that.

  4. RiderWriter

    So very sorry about Dex (and what a perfect name that was for him!). I like what someone else said: he’s just over the hill, waiting for you. Godspeed, Dexter, and run as free as you like now!

  5. Kathy

    I finished your post with tears in my eyes, while my 13-year-old dog slept next to me on the bed. I feel for you both in your loss and send my heartfelt condolences. We love them so much and sometimes the right thing is to let them go, and help them on their way.

  6. Carol

    I am so sorry for your loss, I know the pain must be unbearable. Thank you so much for sharing his life here with us. He sure was special. Hugs to you and your family, and remember to “listen” for him once in a while……
    Rest in Peace Dex

  7. Maggie

    Dex has just gone over the next hill to see what is there. He will like what he finds so much that he won’t come back but will wait for you to arrive so he can show you around. RIP Dex. You were a lucky dog.

  8. Arliss

    So very sorry for the loss of your Dex. What a very special dog he must have been. Thanks very much to both of you for sharing your hearts about him. The photos capture such a range of a life, from the puppy face to the noble senior. And how amazing it is that *both* of you are such wonderful writers. Your husband’s tribute is so touching and eloquent. So many of us have been there in that room at the vet’s when that syringe of pink liquid is brought in. What he writes of that moment is so painfully raw but beautiful. Tears for your loss. We understand.

  9. Gail

    I too am sorry for your loss of Dexter. It is never easy, never without regret and remorse of different types and different levels. But now it is done and you and your husband did the best job you could for Dexter. That is all Dexter would ask of you. That is all that he wanted, a good life on his terms as much as possible with good love, good food and a good, interesting life. You gave that to him and when he was not content, he took what he needed. Thankfully, his adventures didn’t hurt him and he survived and surmounted them all. What more could he ask for? He got what he most wanted and was grateful for that. He was loved and he loved right back.

  10. Linda Johnson

    So sorry for your loss. It is always rough but when you know you did the right thing it makes it a tiny bit easier. :(

  11. Bruce, Shirl and Gang

    I know there are no words for you both right now but please just know we LOVE YOU.
    Thank you for letting us get to know Dex. WHAT A GUY!! and be prepared for seeing and feeling his strong spirit in the days to come. It will be with you always, watching and taking care.

    Our Love,
    S and Gang

  12. Delrene Sims

    Dear Dawn /hubby and all creatures on your ranch. I’m very sorry for your loss of Dexter. I know how hard it is to let them go, but they do tell you when it is time and they love you for ending their suffering. He had a wonderful life with people who understood and cared for him until the very end. It is never easy, but the right thing to do. We love them so much for their short time on this earth. Take care and treasure your photos and memories.

  13. ValerieB

    Oh, Dawn. Please know that you are not alone in all of this, and neither is Hubby. It is a brutal and cruel thing that our furry family members leave us far too soon, and oftentimes put us in the position of having to make such a sad and painful decision. From what I just read, Dexter was most definitely ready for his next journey; thank you both for giving him his wings. When it comes time, it is the kindest thing we can do.

  14. Anne B

    Blessings to Dex. Much understanding to you both with the loss of your true friend.It’s just plain hard.

  15. sue tyrkus

    So very sorry Dawn, to hear about your loss of Dex. I believe there is nothing harder than losing a beloved animal…for me, it’s often harder than losing a human, (but I can’t really say that out loud, in front of other humans; they think I’m nuts).
    Your hubby’s tribute was a beautiful thing, on so many levels. It speaks to his tremendous love of YOU, let alone Dex. Kudos to him being a man who is strong in himself. When we put our dog down after 14 years, EVERYONE was sobbing! The vet had looked after her since she had graduated from vet school, and cried like a baby, the tech was crying, my parents were crying, and I was crying. It’s never easy, but always the right thing. I’ve told my hubby that when it’s time for Leo (my best horse of all time), to go, he might as well put me down too, because I don’t know how I’ll ever cope. It’s a double edged sword having pets…so difficult to go through the loss of them, but they enrich our lives so much. I hope that you feel better soon.

  16. Jody Brittain

    I am so very very sorry for you loss! It is hard to loose a best friend and guardian! Dexter was special, and will never be replaced. Excuse me now while I go find more tissue!

  17. Amy

    I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your baby. Animals make our lives whole, and the void they leave when they’re gone is deep. Wishing you peace in the days to come – and know he’ll always be with you, watching over you from doggie heaven. *hugs*

  18. Jeannie

    My thoughts to you and your husband.* You will all have a Dexter-shaped hole in your heart forever, but try hard to fill that hole with good memories. Feel and honor the grief, of course, but remember all the love Dexter had for you. Your joint blog post here is wonderfully reflective.

    Euthanasia, saying goodbye, is the hardest, bravest thing we do as loving guardians for our companions. It is the final responsibility we bear, and you both are bearing it well. You were lucky to have each other.

    When you are feeling a little more balanced, I highly recommend the novel Unsaid, by Neil Abramson. Among other issues, it takes a good, clear look at euthanasia and the human-companion animal bond.



    *Please tell him that his old co-worker says hello and wishes him all the best. I learned more about the best part of him as a person in this essay than I ever did at work! (I mean that in a good way…not in a stalker way…)

  19. Kitty Bo

    “It came to me that every time I lose a dog or horse, they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog or horse that comes into my life gifts me with a piece of his or her heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog and horse, and maybe I will become as generous and loving as they are.”


  20. Laura Lewis

    Deepest sympathy to you and your family. You did the right thing and he knew he was loved.

  21. barbara

    Group hug for you and your family. I’m still mourning my two oldies I lost last year. I kept listening to a song by Gotye called, “Bronte” and it reminded me of how much we loved our dogs and how much they are missed. If you listen, have a box of tissues handy. here is a link to the video:
    and the lyrics:

    Now your bowl is empty
    And your feet are cold
    And your body cannot stop rocking
    I know
    It hurts to let go

    Since the day we found you
    You have been our friend
    And your voice still
    Echoes in the hallway of this house
    But now
    It’s the end

    We will be with you
    When you’re leaving
    We will be with you
    When you go
    We will be with you
    And hold you till you’re quiet
    It hurts to let you go

    We will be with you
    You will stay with us

  22. Kim Shifflett

    I am so very sorry for your loss, but I know you know that you did the best thing for him. You will see him again and he won’t be in any pain.

    I am watching my 13 year old JRT, Missy’s trip to the other side too. She’s in no pain and still has a good quality of life, but everyday I wonder…..

  23. Kay in Oregon

    I am so sorry for your loss. As another person wrote, it never gts any easy. Never. I’ve been told that we will know when it’s time to say goodby to our 16 year old long-ago-rescued Yellow Lab. That’s what happened 12 years ago when I lost my beloved black horse and 14 years ago when we said goodby to our 14 year old black Lab and 18 years ago when our 20 year old cat left us. We do know because they tell us their need to be released from suffering. Because we’ve always listened to them with our hearts, we hear this plea and draw up the courage to make one of the hardest decisions a human has to make, a decision that comes from deep love. My heart aches for you both. I know the cavernous hole in the heart that comes with loss of such a special friend.

  24. Tori Henderson

    I am so sorry for your loss Dawn and I extend my sympathies to you,

    Coincidentally, last summer my dog Maia also had a bowel obstruction and we had to rush her into emergency surgery after almost a week of constant vomiting (due to our vet initially not realizing what was happening to her). Having to watch her suffer was truly agonizing but thankfully the surgery was successful.

    I too lost my old man Murphy a little over a month ago, and as I gazed upon the pictures of your Dexter I can see my old man’s stately face in his. Our boys looked very much alike except mine had floppy ears and longer hair. I would like to think they are off running together wherever our furry children go, chasing rabbits and squirrels and sharing stories only old dogs can tell.

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