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

  • Thank you so much for sharing Dexter with the rest of us. Isn't it amazing that a cat whose first 20 years must have been so daunting wound up having such an incredible personality and a giant heart?I am sharing this post with my readers on the 4 of November, as I am a big advocate of adopting cats and dogs no matter what age they might be. Your post illustrates that beautifully. Thank you for adopting Dexter, and letting the rest of us know him a little bit.

    • Dealer’s story is deeply moving. Thanks to your insights and intuititive response to a skraggy old cat so many lives were enriched. Most touching is the relationship between Dexter and your five year old son with a rare spiritual sensitivity that connected them.

      Yours is an endearing family with a gift that transcends the ordinary to become extraordinary in so many ways. Something very special took place in your home where dogs, old cats, and unique humans affirmed that all souls are connected. Your children will be forever gifted because of what can only be called an ephemeral understanding that life is deeply personal and meaningful in its simplicity.

      Thank you all for expressing the ineffable depth of love that passes all understanding.

  • Thanks for the happiness you guys provided old Dexter. What a sweety. I cried in spite of Dr Seuss's advice.A while ago I tried to count up all the cats (and dogs) we've had the honor of sharing our lives with. Something like 19 cats and 7 dogs so far. Right now two cats and two dogs, all rescues, mostly not such a sad experience as Dexter.Our oldest dog was stolen off of a chain at 2 am by another client of our vet clinic. She couldn't stand to see her mistreated and alone out in that back yard another day. The Vets treated the heartworm, etc, for 9 months, and then allowed us to take her home. After a few days we learned that her name was Happy, and she's still happy to be on our little WV farm.Best wishes to you guys, I hope all your cats are loving and kind, as Dexter was.Take care! ;-)I saw Were-bear's post about Dexter at Balloon-Juice, where we rescue a few critters, from time to time. That's John Cole's blog. Our last rescue was Walter, an elderly dog abandoned in a foreclosed house, left to die alone, and found by John the house purchaser at auction. Now Walter lives in Minnesota, and seems to be doing fine. Woof! Woof!

  • You are so incredibly kind. Thank you very much for your nice message. Dexter was a special soul. We are so thankful to be the people he chose to be his family 🙂

  • I am so in awe by the amazing people who have written to us about Dexter, and you are one of them! Thank you for sharing your story. I love that you have a dog named \”happy\” 🙂 I really do appreciate your comment. And mostly, thank you for saving the lives of so many homeless pets over the years. xoxoxo

  • Thanks as well for sharing your story. I have a similar story by adopting a 21 year old cat named Vlekkie and she lived 3 years with a friend if mine and me. She filled our lifes with joy and love and we still miss her and think about her. Its is great to read your story knowing their are more people in this world who safed ,and safe, old cats. They need to have a safe home. You and your family have a big heart. By beloved Dexter. Evelien from the Netherlands.

  • I came across an article from two years ago when you first brought Dexter home about 5 months ago. I cried then just reading about a family bringing home a senior kitty.I did some searching and found updates along the way of Dexter and the photos you took of him. I was incredibly happy to see he was still with you two years later!Today, the news of Dexter's passing appeared in my Facebook feed. I'm so sorry for you, your children and your husband. However, I am incredibly grateful that Dexter got to spend his remaining years with a family that loved him as much as you did.Only special people have it in their heart to care for a senior cat. God bless.

  • I didn't make it through your entire tribute without crying myself.. tears brought on by gratefulness. You provided an extraordinary life for this extraordinary cat. The way he snuggled with your boy, your family, your dogs.. I can tell that he wasn't any ordinary cat, nor was he a good cat.. he was a GREAT cat. He carried love, and lessons in love.. Thank you for sharing a touching story. Thanks to you, his life was special.. and he made a difference to people like me, who yearn to see AND make a difference in the lives of animals. May your lives continue to be filled with love and joy.

  • What a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing. I think senior pets are so great. They have so much love to give, and truly want nothing in return. xoxo

  • Dear Chelsea, what a truly nice thing to write. I appreciate your caring message. We sure miss Dexter. He filled our home with so much love and happiness. I hope that he inspires others to go to their local shelter and save a life. xoxo

  • Saw Dexter's story on Facebook and had to watch the YouTube dedication to his life. Finding Dexter's story has made my week. Thank you for loving a senior kitty. I believe he lived to be 22 years old because of your love. Not many cats make it to 20. My oldest boy was 19 and 1/2 when he passed away in my arms. His smile will keep me going today as I look after all my rescued kitties and take my mother's cat to the vet today who has CKD… Purrz and Prayers, Katie Kat.

  • Jill Williams … Please accept my most sincere condolences at the loss of your beloved Dexter. I have heard it said that a cat is an animal that will love you more than he loves himself… I believe that cats (and dogs) are really Angels sent from Heaven to teach us how to be more human and compassionate. They come to bless us with their presence, for a while. Then they return to Heaven. Such small creatures, so soft and warm. They give so much love and comfort. They become our friends, confidants, companions. They are our family, our children. And when their little lives are over, we miss them so very very much. The hole in our lives seems endless. The tears never stop. It does not seem fair that this should be. That these small creatures who give so much, for so little, should stay in our lives for such a short time. Take comfort in the knowledge that they await us beyond the Bridge. And do not give up … there is always another one who needs a home. Lost, hungry, and needy. Keep the door to your heart open … let there always be room for one more. Let the next little Angel bless you with its presence for a while, until it too must return to Heaven and be an Angel once more. May God bless them all for their unconditional love for us mere humans…

  • RIP Dexter. What a beautiful story albeit that i still have wet cheeks now as i write. I lost my fur baby Tigger last year he was just 5 years old. I miss him so so much every day, i hand reared him from a few wks old so he and i had a special bond. I hope dexters story encourages people to at least consider a rescue cat even more older rescue cat who often get overlooked in shelters full of younger, 'cuter' cats. 2 of my 5 cats are rescue kitties and I love them dearly. My thoughts are with you and your beautiful family. Thankyou for being such a special person and opening your home and heart to dexter and giving him- in his final days, probably the best days of his life for those 2:years. Bless you xx

  • Your story warms my heart so much. Not only did you give and get unconditional love, but the experience you gave your boys will carry through their life. Such wonderful memories you will all have of a very special cat. Thank you for all you do. <3

  • Wow. Such a wonderful story. I have a 20 year old cat,Isis, i have had for 13 years now. The one thing i am taking away from your story is how many pics you had of your cat, even though you only had him two precious years. I had a tom cat for 19 years and I only have one picture of him. I only had one pic of the dog I had as a child. They is long gone and I so regret not having more pictures of them. I have had two other cats I have no pictures of. I have hang ups of picture taking my ugly face and it has taken over to avoiding taking pics of my beloved pets. It makes no sense! I am totally committed to making an album full of pictures and some videos of Isis. Thanks for your video.

  • Hi, I'm visiting from YT. Dexter's story has really touched my heart. He was such a cutie and full of character. \”like he just walked out of Stephen King's Pet Cemetery\” LOL! It must have been hard for your boys when he passed, but it's wonderful that you were able to give him a loving home in the last couple of years of his life.

  • I loved your blog. I watched some of Dexter's videos. Thank God for you and your family. Dexter had a quality of life! I wanted to share a story with you…. I took my girls to the shelter to adopt a kitten. I steered them toward the little cute baby kittens and my daughter picks up this big fur ball mama cat and said, this is the one. I was reluctant for a minute, but trusted her instincts with adopting an adult cat. It was as long as her when she held it. But… because she was a mom cat, she had the patience of a saint. My girls comb Zaza's hair, they pretend to dress her up, we are all a team. We,too, had large breed dogs and the all fit together under this roof like one big happy family. I couldn't image our lives without Zaza now. We will forever adopt adult cats… if any cats really do need a home, it is an adult cat- age is a number, the love they share is priceless…..

  • ShelleyBlake … What a wonderful and heartfelt story about your daughters and your \”Special Little Angel\” named Zaza. Bless you and your family for giving her a furever home … in return you will receive her unconditional love!! Blessings to you and to all your family.

  • This touches my heart and soul so deeply. My cat Petrie lived to be almost 20, and your You Tube video caught my eye. I'm weeping as I type this, but want to say the pictures of your boys and big dogs cuddling with Dexter made my heart sing! Thank you for taking a chance on Dexter and for sharing your sweet experience with him; it's truly remarkable, as are you and your family. God Bless Y'all.From Dana in TX

  • You don't know me, but I stumbled upon Dexter's story on Youtube. Seconds in I found myself blurry with tears over an animal and a family I didn't know, but could see that they gave each other such happiness. Your beautiful sons looked like they were wonderful caretakers to this senior kitty, and you all appear to have given this little guy a fitting exit as his ninth life was up. What a sweet and beautiful story–and those pictures were so darling and told a million stories. What more can any of us ask for in this life but someone or something to love us unconditionally? Thanks for sharing a bit of Dexter with all of us.

  • I just now came across your story of Dexter joining your family and of needing to say goodbye. I cried tears of gratitude hearing someone would choose an undesirable elderly cat. To see the undeniable love and connection that this little being had with your family is beyond beautiful. My heart mourned reading his little body gave up. Dexter left such an amazing gift for your family. As you gave him more love and life than any being could hope for. Thank you.

  • Thank you for your very moving eulogy to a much beloved friend. Dexter's story was in my mind when I was looking for a new feline family member after my previous soulmate passed away. Found two 9 y/o FeLV+ brothers who make every day wonderful just because they chose me to be their forever human. So thank you!

  • Hello,We shared your story that came to France on our page of our association for the defense of cats.It's a wonderful love story that will resonate long in the hearts of everyone who loves cats.Thank you for allowing Dexter to enjoy two beautiful years, the most beautiful of his life, the ones he carries with him for eternity. A beautiful story that makes people believe in the best.Mr. Chareyre, association of the cats of Port Saint Louis of the Rhône, France

  • It's 2019, and I've only now learned about Dexter's story. It was very rewarding to read your story, watch the videos, Dexter certainly lived wonderful times in his family, the pain of loss always exists, but the affection and the experience of this time with him and his with you is greater. His story was one of the best things I've ever read in this context of adoption. As I read and watched the videos, I shared the feelings of your family. My heart is warm. thank you so much for your attitude towards Dexter, and for sharing part of his life and his farewell. I wish all the best for you and your family, and for Dexter to be in a place of peace. My respect, from Brazil.

  • Jill,I just discovered Dexter's heartwarming story. I was looking for another Dexter but that's fine, I'm happy I found your Dexter. God Bless you for adopting a senior kitty and giving him so much love for the last few years of his life. Tears stream down my cheek as I write, moved by your kindness, and saddened by your loss. It's funny how years later such special creatures echo across time. As though they're timeless- because they are.I'm spellbound by how sweet and loving he was. I can tell by his photos he was truly special. I'm curious about one thing, how did such a senior cat with such a wonderful personality wind up in the shelter? I'm surprised nobody has asked that but I'd like to know. Best,Mark

  • Nevermind me asking how Dexter arrived at the shelter, I read your other post from when you first adopted sweet Dexter. Although I am curious how long the little darling was stranded at the sheler?I am also curious how long he was at the hoarder? With 99 other kitties I can see why he didn't want to be around other cats and why he was so affectionate with your family- he was lonely.There's no way such a sweet cat could get much love and kindness when there were so many other cats also vying for attention. The poor dear, I'm glad he wound up with you folks and he could get all the attention he wanted and obviously very much deserved.Again a very heartwarming story, it's a shame you weren't able to rescue him sooner so you could have showered him with affection for all that much longer a time. Two years goes by in the blink of an eye and it seems all too short when the time comes to say farewell.

  • Rührende Geschichte, ich finde es toll, das es Menschen gibt, die einem älteren Tier nochmal ein Zuhause geben, das es geliebt wird, das es weiß, was Wärme und Geborgenheit bedeuten, Sicherheit empfinden kann, egal für wie lange.Wir haben 2003 ein kleines, verwaistes Kätzchen von Kreta mit nach Hause genommen, er wurde leider nur 14 Monate alt – FIP, 2 Monate vor er ging, holten wir einen kleinen Kater- Jesse aus dem Tierheim, wir haben nicht gewusst das unser Kreta Kater sehr krank war und wollten nicht, das er alleine bleibt. Nach dem Tod von Jerome, so hieß unser Kreta Kater, holten wir für Jesse noch ein Katerchen aus dem Tierheim – Jasper. 15 Jahre waren sie zusammen, leider ging Jesse letztes Jahr im Juni (heul-wir vermissen ihn unsagbar, er war für uns einzigartig!). Nun ist Jasper alleine, aber er bekommt es hin, wir sind seit November in einer neuen Whg., Hier hat er keine Berührungspunkte und keinen Geruch mehr, der an seinen Kumpel erinnert.Es wird nochmal sehr schwer werden, wenn er geht.

  • Thank you SO much for this story (and videos), truly touching and inspiring. Dexter was obviously a very special soul and very much loved. He won the lottery when you walked into the shelter on that fateful day. And you did too. I recently lost my true soulmate, Bobby, my tabby cat of 19 years. He passed at home, I was with him. It was the single saddest day of my life. I was inconsolable. He will never be replaced, of course. But if I ever get another cat someday far off (it’ll take me a long time to get there, if I ever do), I’m pretty sure it will be an older cat – one that has much less chance of being adopted. Again, thank you so much and bless you.

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