Nearly one year after losing his wife Beth Chapman to cancer, Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman is ready for the next chapter of his life — and is certain she would approve.
Speaking exclusively with PEOPLE, the Dog’s Most Wanted star opened up about his decision to propose to girlfriend Francie Frane, what the future holds for them, and why he believes Beth would be on board.
"I need a partner," says Duane, 67. "I've said it before. There will never be another Mrs. Dog. There is not. Francie couldn't do that. There will be a last Mrs. Chapman. If Beth was here, and saw Francie and saw how she was raised, her morality and this and that, Beth would say, 'Big daddy, don't lose her.'"
"You'll never forget the spouse," he adds. "You can't help it. I will never forget. But I've got to get out there. I've got to be able to say, 'I came out of this and you can, too.' As a human being, I don't think you look for — not a replacement, because you can never find one. I'm learning that right now."
Duane proposed to Frane over the weekend over a candlelit dinner at his Colorado home.
"They’re very happy and looking forward to a long life together," a rep for Duane told PEOPLE.
Of his decision to propose to Frane, Duane says, "When you know, you know."
"I believe in marriage," he adds. "Beth taught me."
Last week, Duane professed his love for Frane on Instagram, sharing that she has been able put a smile on his face. Beth, who was diagnosed with stage II throat cancer in 2017, died last June at the age of 51.
A post shared by Duane Lee Chapman (@duanedogchapman) on Apr 24, 2020 at 6:56pm PDT
"I scream & Cry Beth where are you why did you leave me then I look up & see you Francie & the pain turns to a smile I LOVE YOU WOMAN !!" Duane captioned a solo shot of Frane.
While fans have criticized Duane for his new relationship, one of his daughters stepped in to defend him last month.
“Everyone who’s judging my father should sure pray that they never have to lose their loved one and get judged for trying to fill the void,” wrote Bonnie Chapman, 21. “Your opinion is invalid. My mother would’ve wanted him to be happy. Now please shut up and let me my dad live in peace.”
In an interview with The Sun U.S. in March, Duane said he and Frane have bonded over their shared grief of losing a spouse to cancer. Frane’s late husband Bob died just months before Beth.
“I know that when I start to feel bad about Beth and it’s overwhelming, Francie seems to show up and that helps the kids,” Duane said. “And I feel that Beth expects her to show up to take care of me. And Bob, Francie’s late husband, expects me to be a man and a gentleman and so I am.”
While Duane said the wedding won't be until after the coronavirus lockdown, he's more than ready to embark on this next journey.
"I still believe that if you fall in love and you're happy together, you better get married," he said.