Dexter’s Life Lessons

By: Lisa Philippart

There will never be another Dexter. On March 11, 2020, our sweet boy passed away from complications of mast cell cancer. In October 2019, I wrote an Athens Now article about Dexter — sharing his life, cancer diagnosis, and prognosis. The mast cell tumors were discovered in Dexter’s liver in June 2019, and he was given three months to live. But Dexter loved life and defied the odds for the next nine months. Our home has been so quiet and empty without his huge presence. These are just a few of the many life lessons I learned from the gift of sharing my life with the one and only Dexter:

1. Take time to play. Dexter loved his ropes and was always looking for someone to try to take one from him. The game was that he would come up to you and show you his rope, and the moment you reached for it, he would take off looking back at you with a grin on his face. It’s so easy to settle into a rut of taking everything so seriously. Playing energizes your spirit and mind, allowing all sorts of new ideas and creativity to emerge.
2. Jump for joy when you are happy. I have a picture of Dexter by the gate in our backyard. He is in mid-air, twisting his body toward me, with a look of pure joy at the thought of our upcoming neighborhood walk together. When was the last time you shared your joy outwardly? We live our lives so focused sometimes that we forget to get excited and fully experience the good times. The world is miraculous and beautiful. Dexter reminded me every day to celebrate with joy.
3. It’s about the journey. When Dexter went for car rides, he would stick his head out the window, smell the air, and watch the world go by. He didn’t seem to care about where we were going. It was all about the adventure. I know it’s important to set goals, but we often forget that it’s the journey that matters most. Getting attached to the outcome can set us up for frustration or depression if the expectations are not met. For Dexter the goal was the trip itself…enjoying the moments of excitement and fun.
4. Let go of grudges. Dexter was a stray, possibly a junkyard dog, who had probably been mistreated by our human counterparts before we met. But Dexter was never aggressive or wary with us because someone else was mean to him. He gave us a second chance. He didn’t allow past mistreatment to keep him from moving forward with life. (Side note: Humans are probably the only species that hold a grudge.) Let grudges go and you’ll be able to open up a world of possibilities.

5. Live in the moment. How I admired Dexter’s ability to be present! Whether he was eating, picking out his favorite rope from the toy bucket, or hopping up on his favorite chair to look out the window, Dexter was all about the present moment. Dogs only access information when they need it…in that instant. The past is gone, and the future is unknown. The only thing you can really enjoy and affect is what is happening right now.
6. Be loyal and dependable. Dogs are pack animals. Dexter loved being in our “pack.” He followed us, played with us, and protected us. Dexter was so in tune with us, that he would often sense our moods and provide comfort without conditions. What a great reminder for all of us to be reliable and trustworthy members of our human pack.
7. Love unconditionally. Dexter loved everyone and never met a stranger. One of the things I miss most about Dexie is seeing him at the back door when I come home. He would be waiting for me, wagging his tail, so happy to see me, no matter what kind of mood I was in. His expression was one of admiration and total devotion, which I continue to try to live up to.
8. Take risks. When we first brought Dexter home, he was wild. The world was an adventure, and Dexter lived in it with total abandon. He loved to swim. If we put a raft in the pool, he would jump off the side onto the raft and then float around or let one of us pull him. He wanted to be human and wasn’t afraid to try. His enthusiasm for life was contagious.

Thank you, Dexter, for being in my life. I am a better human for having known you.
By: Lisa Philippart
Licensed Professional Counselor