When I first met Dex, we were alone together in a vet's examination room; he had been wandering the streets of Brooklyn, starving almost to death. I was thinking about adopting him, but he was considering a quick escape.
He jumped up against the closed door, so that his head and front paws were just above the door handle. He looked at me. He looked at the handle. He looked at me. He looked at the handle.
That did it. Any dog that calculates whether to open the door or stay with a new human was smart enough for me.
By the way, once home, Dex quickly started opening the door to let himself out into the yard. I wasn't imagining it.
For a few years afterwards, I would find food under my pillow: a loaf of bread, dog biscuits and the like. Dex was hiding food, to be prepared in case he ever ran out again.
And so it went.
This forsaken, emaciated dog never stopped using his head instead of his brawn. He wasn't bitter at being abandoned. He didn't dwell on his unfortunate past. (Many rescue dogs do.)
Dex looked so much like a wolf that my neighbor once threw her body over her toddler to protect the child. I was there, and Dex and I both smiled as she lay on the ground and slowly realized she might have overreacted a bit.
Dex looked dangerous to some, but the only danger was that if your head got low enough, he would lick your face.
There were so many reasons that this creature could have allowed his past to define his future, but that never happened.
I can hear some of you grumbling right now: why do I care... he was a dog... this belongs on FB.
If you pay attention, you can learn a great deal by observing what happens around you. You can learn from dogs, the flow of water, the way ice melts. If you remain curious and open, you can learn; today, I'm sharing what I learned from Dex.
So many humans—and dogs—have a rough start and never escape it. Almost every week, I hear someone talk, more or less, about how their parents' lack of ______ explains why they can't be confident, get promoted, handle intimacy or exhibit compassion.
In fact, I had another dog who lived to be 15 and never escaped the after-effects of abuse that haunted her first two years.
But I'd like to believe that we can choose to leave behind the portions of our history that no longer serve us, if we are willing to work hard enough to accomplish that.
"Hard enough" can be very hard indeed. I'm not downplaying that. It might be brutally difficult.
But it's possible.
Dex Kasanoff passed away this morning at age 16, well-fed and well-loved.