Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Goodbye, Dexter

Dexter with his best buddy, J.J.
Last week we lost our best cat friend, Dexter.

I started to write this tribute a couple of times, but I'm going to be honest, it's hard. I scoured hundreds (I'm not kidding!) of photos that we have taken of this special dude over the past two years. And then my eyes start to swell up with tears and everything is blurry.

I just don't know if words, even in the form of a very special tribute, can do Dexter justice. Dexter was so many things to so many people. He was a fuzzy soulmate, a lap warmer, a nap buddy, a gamer, a bookmark, a passing snack (ok -- to clarify that one -- Flora loved to "clean up" her buddy Dexter after all of his daily meals), an icon (he had a fan club!!)...

But mostly, Dexter is a reminder of why every single pet who is currently homeless in a shelter deserves a chance to have a warm bed and family, no matter how long that may be.

This is the day we brought Dexter home. J.J., who was 5 years old at the time, was SO so SO excited to have a cat. I will admit, Dexter was not the prettiest looking feline. He was 20 years old, very skinny and scraggly and fragile. But there was something very endearing in his crooked little smile and cranky-sounding meow.

Love at first sight
Dexter's story is one of unexpected surprises. It is filled with love, and surprise, and tears, and happiness. It's a happy ending.

I've been working at Best Friends Animal Society for almost 12 years now. I meet a LOT of homeless pets. From time to time, Best Friends will send out emails to staff asking if anyone has space available at their home to take in pets until they can make room for them to be housed at the Sanctuary in Kanab, UT. There were a bunch of new kitty arrivals at Best Friends, and an all-staff email went out asking for "temporary" help to house a cat or two. (Learn more about Best Friends here. Best Friends is working to end the killing of homeless pets across the country. You can help!!)

At this time, our household consisted of 3 very large dogs (we called them our wolf-pack -- 2 huskies and one giant malamute mix) and another medium-sized rescue mutt (heeler mix). We were pretty sure that even IF we took in a homeless cat, even temporarily, that we'd need to keep them separated. We had no clue how our dogs were receive a new feline family member.

But J.J., 5 years old at the time, had been begging to get a cat for as long as we can remember. So we decided that since we had a spare room, we'd at least entertain the thought of "temporarily" helping to provide housing to a homeless cat.

I told J.J. not to get his hopes up because it would not be fair to get a kitty (at the time I imaged a spunky, young and energetic kitten) and have to keep them in a separate room. And that this was only temporary. :)

Dexter (about a week after we got him)

Later that day I went up to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary to meet a few of the cats, and choose one to come home with us. Oh boy! There were all kinds! Big cats, small cats, cute little spunky furballs of kittens, kittens with beautiful fur and bright eyes.

Then I saw Dexter.

I said "who is that cat??" Dexter looked very rough. His fur was very patchy all over, none on his tail. He had a very stern MEOW and he was the only cat walking around the room. The caregiver said "Oh, that is Dexter. Dexter is VERY old. He's 20. He doesn't like other cats at all, so we can only let him out from time to time." My first impression was "wow, this cat really needs a home." The caregiver said that if I could take Dexter, it would really alleviate some of the stress the others were having, and likewise she was pretty sure Dexter would be thrilled to get away.

There were a million thoughts running around in my head -- mostly "how am I going to bring home a 20 year old cat? He looks like he just walked out of Stephen King's Pet Cemetery. I have 4 dogs, 2 kids (who probably will want to pick him up and play all day) and I think this cat's nine lives are almost up."

But, Dexter was incessantly meowing at me, weaving in and out of my legs, putting his paws up on my lap as I knelt down. OK, I was going to bring him home.

Dexter's very first minutes at his new home.

Steve and Dexter, best bros forever

As soon as I brought Dexter home, I took the carrier into his "room". I called the human family into the room and prepared them. I said "This is Dexter. he is 20. He really didn't like being with other cats at Best Friends, so I think we can give him a pretty good life for a while. And do NOT open the door, we have 4 huge dogs out there and I have no idea how they will act with an ancient kitty." It was love at first sight for JJ and Harry (age 7 at the time.. now 9).

My human kids and Dexter had an immediate bond. JJ didn't see a 20 year old cat with falling out fur and a crooked smile. He saw a best friend, a fuzzy soulmate. JJ picked up Dexter and cradled him in his arms. At only 5 years of age, JJ saw the importance of helping this cat -- no matter his age or his appearance. Here's one of the first vids I put up on youtube about them.

Over the next few days, Dexter would meow and stick his paws out from under his door. The dogs were all very curious. They never seemed aggressive or anxious. (I think this is always a good idea -- to keep your pets separated until they can know each others sounds and smells). The next day we put up a gate and let them see each other.

Our large malamute, Flora, 140 lbs! was VERY curious. She sniffed Dexter's nose through the gate and Dexter meowed and reciprocated the "hello" gesture. This went on for another couple days and finally we decided that, very supervised, we would allow them to meet. The rest is pretty much history. The dog pack happily accepted this elderly kitty into their family. It was the craziest thing! I still can't believe it. ALL of them would sleep with Dexter. Dexter was king.

both so in love

Over the next 2 years, Dexter got chubbier... his fur filled in, he was active and loving. He NEVER acted old. NEVER! He loved anyone with a heartbeat (except if you were a cat). He couldn't stand to be alone. He laid on our laps during work. He slept with our dogs on the bed at night. He watched TV and played Minecraft with the boys. He was a permanent fixture in our lives.

People thought we posed our pets together for photo ops. That's how ridiculous they were! But we didn't. We were living in a Disney movie. Dexter was so in love with our dogs. He was nearly never apart from them.

Best interspecies love

On the morning of October 21, Dexter was not acting quite right. He was stumbling around and acting really out of it. He didn't want to eat. We had a really sick feeling inside. And I think we all knew that Dexter was going to be leaving us.

We spent most of the morning and afternoon sitting with him, giving him so many kisses and hugs, telling him just how much we loved him. We whispered to him that he gave us so much more than we ever expected. We told him that the love he gave us would stay with us for the rest of our lives. We let him know it was OK for him to go. We let him know that he'd never be replaced. We let him know we would honor him through telling his story. We said good-bye.

Dexter's heart finally gave out on that Friday afternoon. He was surrounded by love.

Over the past week we've seen so many stories being shared about Dexter! It's been so incredible! I like to think that this special kitty had a bigger purpose in life. I hope that he inspires others to go to their local shelter and adopt. Adopt a senior cat! Adopt a kitten. Adopt a big, fuzzy middle-aged feline who would probably do just about anything to sleep on a couch or bed. But no matter what sort of pet you get, please adopt!


Dexter's family