Dexter is considered a miracle dog by his owner.
The wire fox terrier should never have been in the life of KC Fodor of Hilton Head Island.
Dexter's original owner, Virginia Casey of Bluffton, bred him to be a precisely groomed show dog, and she had no intention of parting with him eight years ago.
But she changed her mind.
"She told me she got a message from God to sell the dog to me," Fodor said. "And when my husband died at age 67 from leukemia, I was all alone and this dog comforted me. I started training him, and it got my mind focused on something positive."
Dexter was a handful -- a smart, strong-willed dog bursting with energy.
Over time, Dexter was trained, and Fodor found new love and was remarried.
She tried to meet Virginia Casey's high standards for Dexter. Casey left home as a 13-year-old and spent many of her younger years working as a groomer and handler with fine-dog breeders.
Dexter was never a show dog. But he and Fodor recently went through the Hos-Pets pet therapy training at Hospice Care of the Lowcountry. Now they go into nursing homes and assisted-living facilities all over town, where Dexter brings smiles to lonely faces.
One day, Fodor was told of a special resident at one of the nursing centers. It was Dexter's original owner. The slow onset of dementia meant that Virginia Casey's half-brother, Dr. Terry Casey of Hilton Head, had to seek full-time care for her.
Terry and his wife, Carol, tell of Virginia as a trailblazer for women in the cut-throat corporate world of retailing. Despite having no college degree, Virginia Casey worked her way up from sales clerk to the first female general manager of a May Co. department store in 1975, the Great Lakes Mall store in Ohio. She was promoted to a May vice president and then turned around a struggling Lord & Taylor store in Houston.
She was a tough, relentless worker, but liked big jewelry and fast cars. She bought a classic 1962 Morgan, then told the dealer he needed to deliver it because she hadn't learned to drive.
When newspaper after newspaper reported her Horatio Alger story, Virginia Casey said: "I'm here as a merchant. The fact that I'm a woman is not the reason I got here. A woman is a person with a background, it's not just that she's a woman."
This winter, Virginia Casey was in an island nursing home because she could no longer recognize people.
But when Fodor walked in with Dexter, Casey's blue eyes lit up like light bulbs.
"It brought her out of 'La La World' and into the real world," Fodor said. "She said, 'We've got to get him ready for the show.' "
Fodor doesn't think Casey totally connected the dots, but she experienced great joy.
"I gave her back the gift of Dexter."