Pets bring us so much joy, but they live short lives and saying goodbye is the hardest and often kindest thing we can do.
For Joanne Jarvis, losing her Dalmation Dexter just before his seventh birthday was devastating, and she decided to pay tribute to him in a book.
The 47-year-old who lives in Holmes Chapel with her husband Richard and her rescue animals shares how Dexter changed her life in Dexter’s Diary.
Now an animal communicator and Reiki healer, she hopes their story will bring hope and comfort to animal lovers.
• We have two signed copies to give away – more details at the end of the post.
Dexter’s Diary is a lovely tribute to your dog Dexter, can you tell me where the idea came from?
From he was a tiny pup, we kept a diary.
This initially recorded his progress, socialisation, significant events, puppy training and medical information.
We holidayed with Dexter and recorded our trips away as I thought it would be fun to write a book about his adventures and how he enriched our lives.
Dexter so enjoyed visiting different places, he was like ‘The littlest hobo’ and made friends everywhere we went.
However, Dexter sadly endured health problems throughout his life.
We did everything we could to help him and whilst taking care of him I learnt something purposeful and powerful because of our profound inexplicable connection.
The idea of Dexter’s Diary then somewhat evolved into a book that would make people, laugh, cry and think.
How did Dexter came into your world?
Richard and I waited a long time for a dog before finding Dexter.
We wanted a youngster so that we could be involved in training and socialisation so found a breeder in a stable yard.
Dexter had lots of personality. He inspected me first and then reached for a dangling hay net, swung across and landed on Richard’s back.
He gave us a champagne cork he found on the yard to make absolutely certain we got the message and that we should celebrate because he had chosen us!
Dexter was too young to leave his mother and litter mates at this time as he was only seven weeks old.
We wondered how would we remember him for when we went back to collect him… he would develop more spots.
Then we noticed Dexter had a prominent lucky number 7, a pattern in his markings on his right ear. Gosh, this was so distinguishable and unique.
Dexter had such kind, gentle eyes and wise expression too, even as such a tiny pup.
Had you always wanted a Dalmatian?
Yes, I’ve always loved the Dalmatian breed, what girl wouldn’t want a spotty dog?
We carefully considered the reality of having a dog and took time to research the characteristics and requirements of suitable breeds.
We kept coming back to Dalmatians.
We were both drawn to this well known, loyal, playful and energetic breed that suited our active lifestyle and love of the great outdoors.
They’re such stunning dogs.
What was he like as a puppy?
Dexter was always very sociable. He had a big heart, was inquisitive and loved to entertain us.
And he could sing! Dexter would strike the pose and stand proudly as if singing to an invisible audience.
He howled in tune to classical tracks especially and had a repertoire of favourite songs.
He scared my mum once with his singing as she thought he was in pain. Dexter was always up for an encore!
What kind of things did he enjoy?
Exploring, making friends, playing games and he was a skilful little footballer but we had to adapt games to minimise risk of injury when he became poorly.
Can you tell us how he hurt his leg?
Dexter was only two years old when another dog boisterously raced up from behind and dived on him for no apparent reason.
She was bigger, broader than Dexter and very powerful. She totally flattened him and his leg went out to the side. His screams and howls of agony will haunt me forever.
It all happened so quickly and there was absolutely nothing I, or anyone else could have done to have stopped her.
But I so wish to this day that I could have kept him safe. It was heart-breaking helping him up on to his feet and to see him hobbling to our car.
Then he was diagnosed with Spondylosis?
Dexter was never the same after being floored. We tried painkillers, rest, courses of osteopathy and hydrotherapy but he still wasn’t getting better.
He had x-rays at the vets but they didn’t report anything. I could see him worsening so after about six months, I took him to see an orthopaedic specialist.
We were given the devastating news that Dexter was suffering from a very aggressive Spondylosis of the spine along with other issues too.
We were broken hearted.
How did you cope?
We made it our mission to do everything we could to make Dexter comfortable and ensure that he had the very best life possible.
He enjoyed a nutritious, wholesome diet and took daily medications (conventional and complementary) to minimise pain and discomfort.
We took Dexter for hydrotherapy and he was a very elegant swimmer and could stretch out safely and play fetch with his favourite mini football in the warm water.
We were told never to let him get cold as his muscles would go into spasm and so we kept the central heating on a low constant heat.
Dexter had a cupboard full of fleece jumpers and coats, memory foam beds.
We even converted the car and camper to include these so that he could travel in comfort wherever we went.
He had a magnetic collar and wore boots to protect his feet when he started to drag his feet as his nerves started to become affected.
You name it, we did it and I think people thought we were bonkers to have carpets fitted on top of our wooden floors to prevent Dexter from slipping and falling and especially so when we slept downstairs with him.
We would have done anything for Dexter. If I could have taken his pain I would.
What are you fondest memories?
His trips away. He was so easy going, a super little traveller and made friends everywhere.
One pub in the Lake District allowed Dexter on their sofa when we visited because Dex couldn’t rest comfortably on the hard floor.
This was usually off limits to dogs but Dexter somehow always snuggled his way into even the hardest of hearts.
He enjoyed short trips on buses and boats to take in the sights.
We truly made the most of the precious time we had and have such wonderful memories to treasure.
How did you know it was time to say goodbye?
Critical decisions had to be made when Dexter’s health deteriorated and medications were not controlling pain.
We had always said we wanted him to have dignity and it would be unbearable to think of him suffering.
Dexter was the most wonderfully brave dog and had soldiered on for a long time but sadly could not go on forever.
We knew that it was his time and did our utmost to ensure he had a peaceful, pain free passing and he was treated with love and respect.
Our vet come to our home. Richard and I had to be strong despite our heartbreak for the one last act of kindness so Dexter could be free of pain.
It was the right thing but it was so tough as he meant so much to us.
We sat with Dexter as he ate his last sausage. I could feel his heart beating against my leg and I stroked his beautiful silky ears as he slipped away.
There was no fuss, no struggle and to be very honest I was surprised how quickly our beautiful Dexter’s death came.
Numbness gripped me and I hoped this was a dreadful nightmare that we would all wake up from but it wasn’t a dream.
We took a little time to take things in and spend time with him and then drove him to the Pet Crematorium.
And through Dexter you also learned about animal communication too?
Yes, I talk about this in the book and I hope it helps people have more of an understanding of the topic.
Because of what Dexter taught me I have done countless communications over the years, in return for donations for charities helping animals.
Dexter not only changed my life, but subsequently helped countless other people and their animal companions too.
My goal is to run workshops to help people understand this more and connect with their pets.
How you remember Dexter?
Dexter’s ashes are by my bed. He will always be in my heart and his beautiful soul lives on.
Dexter is my motivation in everything I do. He was my best friend, the greatest teacher and made me the person I am proud to be.
I remember him always and especially in the work that I do helping people and their pets.
I so miss Dexter’s presence but do try to honour the love more than the loss, what I would do for just one more hug though!
I hope to have sufficiently honoured him with a fitting tribute as he will forever be immortalised in the book.
And now you have a cat, Daisy
Yes, Daisy our heaven-sent cat is a very special, previously feral girl was sent to us to love.
She is a dream come true. I had never had a cat before and it is fabulous to have her love and trust.
Daisy waited such a long time in rescue for us and is a cherished companion, truly deserving of the life that she now enjoys.
What are your hopes for the book?
Dexter’s Diary celebrates the love and unbreakable bond that we have with our pets. It was written from the heart.
I wanted to share scenarios that people can relate to, whether that be because of illness, heartache, old age and saying goodbye.
We’re a nation of animal lovers and I hope to reassure others that our pets will always be with us and forever in our hearts even when they have passed on.
It’s especially nice to remember happy times and honour the love, the unbreakable bond and lasting impact that our special pets leave behind.
Dexter’s Diary is available on Amazon from £6.99 here: Dexter’s Diary
• To be in with a chance to win a signed copy, send an e mail marked Dexter’s Diary and why you’d like to read Joanne’s story to firstname.lastname@example.org. Competition closes March 18th.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read How Natalia wrote Perfect Cocker Spaniel as a tribute to her dog Oscar or Pet Bereavement: Nine things I learned after saying goodbye to Daisy.