Jake sat on the beach and watched with blurry eyes as the sun went down on the horizon. His feet were buried in the sand. Next to them sat a brand new brass urn with the name “Dexter” written on it in cursive. Jake touched the urn ever so lightly. Tears spilled down his cheeks as reality hit him once again. Dexter was gone, for good this time. There wouldn’t be another like him. Heck, he didn’t know if there would even be another one at this point. He couldn’t bring himself to go through this all over again. He gathered his knees closer, put his head on them and began to sob softly.
He didn’t know how long he had been this way when he felt something wet against his face, accompanied by whimpering and licking sounds. He looked up to see a boxer right up in his face, trying to lick him. “Toby! Let the man be!” Jake heard someone yell followed by running feet. A few seconds later a man was standing by him apologizing profusely. “I’m so sorry man. Toby is a great dog. He just can’t stand to watch people…well….in distress. Really sorry about that! We’re going to leave now.” he said giving the dog a “let’s go” look. “Mine was named Dexter” Jake said softly. The other man didn’t quite catch him and came back with “Sorry, I missed that. Say that again.” Jake petted Toby on his head and Toby now thought it was his duty to cheer up this stranger. He wagged his docked tail and turned circles, tossing up sand as he did. Jake smiled fondly as he repeated “My dog was named Dexter. He was 6. He died yesterday. He was fine one day and the next day he wouldn’t play ball or eat so I took him to the vet and..and they found these nodules. He didn’t even have 2 weeks, my Dexter. I mean, he was 6 years old for chrissakes! Who dies at 6! One minute he was stealing my socks and next minute…he…he is in this urn.” Jake was rambling and he suddenly stopped as he realized what was left of his most dear Dexter was in that urn by his feet.
The stranger stood really still as he let Jake talk, all the while rubbing Toby’s head and neck . The dog looked more distressed than the human at his inability to cheer him up. “I live up that hill over there” the man said pointing to the left. “Do you want to maybe come over for a drink?” Jake didn’t even know this guy, but something in his voice made Jake want to go with him. “OK” he mumbled as he stood up and dusted the sand off his jeans mechanically. Realizing that they were all headed in the direction of “his” home, Toby bounded ahead happily, turning around every so often to make sure they were still coming.
“My name is Aaron by the way” the man said as he opened the door to his bungalow. “Aaron, I’m Jake. Thank you for….this” Jake said pointing his chin towards the door. Aaron nodded and led the way in. “Make yourself comfortable” he said heading towards the kitchen. “I have beer, scotch and vodka. What would you like?” he asked. “Scotch, neat. Please” was Jake’s short reply. When Aaron returned with the scotch and a beer for himself, Jake was sitting on the rug in front of the couch, petting Toby. Toby lay upside down, tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, just enjoying his belly rub. He had this “you must try this, man” look on his face as he looked up at Aaron. Aaron grinned as he handed Jake his drink but sobered up as soon as he saw the pained look on his guest’s face.
“I’m going to step out for a smoke. Stay as long as you want.” Aaron said as he slid open the French doors to the deck. He thought he heard a grunt but wasn’t sure. He figured the man needed some alone time to process what had happened and who better to help him heal than Toby. He for one couldn’t imagine his life without the Tobes. Toby was only 3 so he shouldn’t have to think about this just yet but meeting Jake made him. He shook the thought out of his head and called his girlfriend, Amanda to check on her. When he came in an hour later, Jake was fast asleep on the rug, an arm and a leg over Toby. Toby was wide awake but looked like he didn’t want to move. Aaron covered the two-some up with a throw, turned the lights off and went to bed.
Jake woke up the next morning unsure of where he was until it all came back. Toby wasn’t around but the rumpled throw smelled of him. He carefully got up, folded the throw and set it on the couch and then looked around for a piece of paper and pen. He saw a writing pad on the kitchen counter. He wrote a quick thank you note – “Thank you for last night. I won’t ever forget the kindness you showed a stranger. Toby is a great dog! Enjoy him!” He quietly let himself out and walked the 2 miles home, Dexter tucked under his arm.
Dexter had come into Jake’s life at 6 months old when his prior owner had given up on training this rambunctious pup. The pet adoption event had hung a huge “High energy youngster. Requires exercise and a lot of patience and love” sign on his crate. When Jake saw him, Dexter was in the process of chewing on the corner of that very sign. THAT was love at first sight. Jake decided he was going to take this one home. Over the years, Jake often wondered what would have happened to this pup had he not adopted him. Dexter was a handful and then some. That kid had a mind of his own and while he wanted to please Jake, he was also put on this earth to make Jake’s life hell! He got into Jake’s work files and made a mess, chewed on his favorite Timberland shoes, chased the neighborhood chihuahua all the way to China and barked his head off at the mailman, neighbor, hot girl Jake was trying to impress and to top it off, nailed Jake’s grandma to the wall the minute she walked in the door and licked her whole face. Had she not been used to dogs her whole life, Jake would have had a situation on his hands. Everything Dexter did was with passion. There was only 1 speed – FULL. That dog taught Jake how to enjoy life. Not one person who knew him didn’t fall in love with him.
The first time Jake lost Dexter was when he came home one day and found the yard empty. There were no holes dug in the yard, no gates open. Dexter had simply disappeared. Jake and his neighbors canvassed all the nearby streets calling his name but didn’t find him. Jake was besides himself. He called Animal Control and all the area vets and reported a lost dog, gave them his microchip number and waited for a call. Around 2:30 am, as he was just starting to doze off, he heard scratching by the front door and a rather sheepish looking Dexter. Had Jake not been relieved to get his dog back, he would have killed him! That was 4 years ago. Jake had made him promise never ever ever to leave his side and he had started to believe Dexter might outlive him when he found out about the cancer.
Dexter refused to eat the kibble that morning. Jake had run out of fish to add to the meal and figured Dexter was being picky. He was running late for a meeting so he left the food out and headed to work. He came home at 7 pm to find small puddles of what looked like semi-dried puke on the floor. The food was untouched and Dexter was nowhere to be found. Jake ran around the house looking and finally found him lying in the laundry room on a pile of Jake’s dirty laundry. He looked so unresponsive that Jake knew he had to rush to the vet’s.
X-rays, biopsies and huddles in the backroom later, the vet told him Dexter had advanced lymphoma. It had spread all over and could not be treated. It would probably be humane to put him down given he only had a few weeks to live. It was like Jake had been slapped in the face. He didn’t hear anything else the vet said. Dexter was only 6. He was too young to get cancer, too young to die! This was like a bad dream! They allowed him to take Dexter home with prednisone, some pain meds and a modified dietary plan. It was all a blur from there. Jake took Dexter to another vet only to be told the same thing. Dexter was in a lot of pain but being a trooper through this whole thing. His human was only trying to save his life, so he needed to make sure he rallied. Jake took a leave of absence from work. He didn’t know what to do. He scoured the internet for any remedies, any miracles. He brought home tubs of ice-cream for Dexter and made him hamburgers. The prednisone was giving him somewhat of an appetite, but he had no energy. There was no more ball play, no more stolen shoes. Instead there were puddles of throw-up, sometimes poop when Dexter couldn’t get to the doggie door fast enough. A week later, Jake could no longer watch the love of his life suffer anymore.
He made a call to the vet’s office and they offered to come by for a home visit. They asked that Dexter be made comfortable, so Jake made him a bed of his dirty laundry, Dexter’s favorite, to lie on. He talked to him all day, telling him stories of his childhood and telling him how he would miss him. He cried until there were no more tears left. The vet came, delivered the final shot and waited for Dexter to pass on. Jake simply lay by him, looking into his eyes, oblivious to everything else around him. This was the time for just the two of them. When Dexter closed his eyes for one last time, Jake broke down. The vet left an attendant behind to stay with Jake. He was also the one that would carry Dexter to the office for cremation. Jake could pick up the ashes the next day or have them delivered home.
The next evening at the beach, Jake had just picked up the urn and was still coming to terms with his loss when Toby found him. To this day, Jake believes Dexter sent Toby to tell him one last time that he loved him and to enjoy life like he had. Everyday as he heads out to work, Jake pats the urn sitting on the nightstand and repeats the same words “See you on the other side, buddy!”