In the summer of 2020, an Arizona woman was driving through a little town in southwest Colorado when something caught her eye. She pulled out her phone.
What she captured and posted on social media was later seen nationwide on a segment of Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show.” The thick-of-pandemic segment was “What Are You Doing Wednesdays” — “where we try to show you some uplifting videos from around the country, from around the globe actually,” Fallon said. “Just things that are heartwarming or things that just make us laugh.”
He described the next clip as “bizarre.” It was, he said, “this dog walking a little differently.”
A dog walking on its two hind legs.
There went Dexter, the smiley Brittany spaniel waltzing down the sidewalk in Ouray, his ears bopping, tongue wagging, outpacing his owner as usual, like a kid rushing to the candy store.
“That’s kind of the moment that started Dexter,” says the owner, Kentee Pasek.
Dexter Dog Ouray is how he is now known to legions of virtual followers who have discovered him in his remote home.
They rank more than 107,000 on Instagram. They exceed 705,000 on TikTok, the video platform chronicling his busy life in the mountains: walking/running, opening fan mail, promoting products, trying on costumes, leading parades, chasing turkeys, etc. Voiceovers have come courtesy of Louie Anderson, the acclaimed comedian who died last week after a bout with cancer.
One video garnered more than 40 million hits. It was another casual moment: Dexter walks down the stairs, scans the kitchen (for food probably), then turns his back and proceeds to his favorite couch.
When Pasek posts a video, it’s common for 10,000-plus views to follow. (Her native Ouray’s population is around 1,000).
“Being from a small town, I can’t even imagine being with 10,000 people,” says the mother of two. That’s three if you count Dexter, the youngest at 6, who regularly hugs his family and stands almost as tall as his human brother when he does.
Another thing Pasek could never imagine: vacationing strangers from around the world shouting her dog’s name and asking for pictures. Others not in-the-know look aghast, eyes wide, as if witnessing a ghost.
For answers to questions — Why? How? — they can get a quick summary on the social media bios. “My story: major accident, major surgery=2 fully working legs.”
In the spring of 2016, not yet 1, little Dexter escaped the yard and ran into traffic. His front legs were hit.
He was rushed to the vet, who offered hope. “I think we can save this dog,” he said.
Pasek and her husband desperately hoped so. They had put down two dogs in two years. For the kids, they couldn’t bear a third.
“And, honestly, probably more so for me,” says Pasek, who came to adore the fluff ball’s “exuberant personality.” The puppy’s shenanigans were so irresistible that Pasek’s daughter started a Dexter Instagram.
That account proved helpful during his recovery. Pasek used it to keep the concerned people of her town updated on Dexter’s troubled progress.
Surgery spared one leg, but it was failing him. A wheelchair was tried, but he struggled with that, too. The days and weeks were “tough, emotional,” Pasek says. “There were times we were like, ‘What are we doing?’”
Then one morning in the yard, she blinked.
Did that really just happen? she asked herself.
Did Dexter just walk two-legged up the porch steps?
That’s how he kept walking. “That’s not good,” the vet said.
So the family tried to encourage the wheelchair. Dexter would stand up and walk with it strapped to his belly, risking injury.
The end thinking: “I guess we’re just gonna let him walk upright,” Pasek recalls. “What else can we do?”
So it’s been for about five years.
“Between 2017 and 2020, he was just our family dog,” Pasek says. Then came the video that went viral, from Fallon to web channels across the world.
The fame caught Pasek by surprise. At the time, like so many at the height of the pandemic, she had lost her job. “I just started spiraling,” she says.
She’d wake up in the middle of the night to find Dexter at her side, lending his hugs. She’d see him as the Instagram star her daughter initially saw.
Pasek also got busy with Dexter’s TikTok, an instant sensation. She felt “pulled into a different reality,” she says. A happier reality.
“Dexter saved me,” she says.
And maybe he could save others, she thought.
That’s been suggested by messages she’s received. By people with disabilities who say they’ve found inspiration in Dexter. By a therapist who said she was sending depressed clients to Dexter’s social media accounts.
Perhaps it was no coincidence his popularity soared when it did, Pasek says.
“I think people were looking for the inspiration of Dexter,” she says. “Here we are in a pandemic, and look, Dexter survived. We can, too.”