We Were Snubbed by Our Dead Dog. Twice.

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In the 15 years that my dog, Jesse, was alive, I sang him to sleep over 5,000 times. Our ritual began with a question: “Who’s ready for good night loves?”

Jesse would hop off whatever chair he’d been hogging, shake his wavy black-and-white coat, march across the wooden floor and snuggle into the foam pet bed in our bedroom. I’d tuck in beside him, kiss the silky hair on the bridge of his nose and croon an improvised jingle.

I am a terrible singer. People ask me to sit out the birthday song if it is being taped. Still, Jesse adored our good night communions.

I assumed.

There was no cause to question our relationship. Not until I discovered that, after Jesse died, he seemed to be visiting other people.

In life, he could always find his way home, so why did he not visit us in the afterlife?

Child-free by choice, my husband, Jim, and I loved being pup parents. Jesse got romps around Los Angeles. Relaxing vacations in Big Bear. Meaty home-cooked stews. A lap of red wine or yeasty beer off Jim’s finger at cocktail hour. Excessive? Perhaps. When Jesse was still hardy on his 15th birthday, a friend remarked, “He’s got it too good to die.”

We thought so, too, but maybe from his perspective he was living a life of forced labor.

We’d trained Jesse to be an animal therapy dog. Sick kids would squeal with delight when he swaggered into the Ronald McDonald House — a bright distraction as they coped with itchy body casts or a fifth surgery. On visits to the abused children’s shelters, traumatized kids would giggle and chase him as he’d climb their play set and zoom down the slide.

Jesse seemed to like the job. He’d jump out of the car, eager to go inside. Occasionally a mini-thug would pull his tail or poke a finger in his eye. We’d quickly reward his tolerance with a liver treat. After an hour of squawking kids, Jesse might wobble away with exhaustion but he never complained. Then again, he wasn’t much of a talker.

While alive.

When he retired from volunteer work, people would remark at how fit he stayed for a senior. I’d always quip, “The day Jesse refuses a beer will be the day he dies.”

One evening, even a half-teaspoon of frosty Samuel Adams couldn’t entice him to eat.

Cancer. Our baby had few good night loves left.

To ease his passing, we brought a vet to our living room for the euthanasia. We lit vanilla scented candles. Made a crackling fire in the hearth. Surrounded him with plush stuffed animals and poured a large tumbler of tequila on the rocks.

The drink was for me.

I wasn’t sure I could let the vet give him the shot and carry his blanket-clad body out the door. But once the glass was empty, I nuzzled my face into his shoulder to comfort him. Jim stroked Jesse’s coat one final time. The syringe’s plunger went down. Good night, love.

Jesse’s decline had happened over a single weekend and we struggled to tell our friends he’d died. Most of all, we avoided telling Donna, a neighbor who called herself The Bitch of Beachwood Drive. A retired realtor who loved garage sales, she hoarded ill-fitting clothes and chipped jars in her badly neglected 1923 house. She’d scream at innocent strangers who parked in front of her home yet when Jesse pranced down the street, she’d pause to ruffle his head and smile for a change.

Donna was growing increasingly frail and her complexion had begun to match her thick gray hair. She’d cried for a month when another neighbor’s dog died, and Jim and I knew she’d be crushed by our gloomy news.

Two weeks after Jesse died, we took a chance and hustled down our street, hoping to go unnoticed. But there she was. Standing out front — guarding her sacred corner. We waved, put our heads down and forged on.

It was no use. She called out to us. Trapped!

Jim and I looked at each other and winced. One of us would have to spill the news and break her heart.

“Your little friend died, didn’t he?” she asked before we could even say hello.

“Wha … uh … how did you know?” I asked.

Where was Donna’s perpetual agitation?

“He came to me in a dream,” she said.

My first thoughts weren’t noble: That little bugger. Why not visit us?

“Really? What did he say?”

Donna mumbled partial words, shuffled around the cracks in the sidewalk — and around my question. But that calm? Her encounter had been profoundly positive.

I was grateful Jesse consoled our ailing neighbor yet I was an empty pocket without that dog. Couldn’t he have swung by our house for a cameo appearance?

A few weeks later, Donna died of lung cancer.

I told myself Jesse had coaxed cranky Donna to leave earth with grace. I was at peace with it.

Until our friend Chad told us a few weeks later that Jesse had also visited him.

Chad? Really? Were we not even on Jesse’s social calendar? Chad’s a great guy but he’d only been to our home a few times.

A talented artist with trusting eyes and an overused bicycle, Chad was 31 when doctors diagnosed his inoperable brain tumor.

Chemotherapy helped shrink the tumor but couldn’t get rid of it. Regular M.R.I.s would let him know if he’d see his next birthday.

One afternoon, Chad came over with news he couldn’t wait to share. On the night before his latest M.R.I. at Cedars-Sinai, he had trouble falling asleep. Would the test show his tumor had reached the point of no return?

Eventually he drifted off.

Jesse appeared in his dream and relayed an unspoken message: don’t worry. Your tumor hasn’t grown.

Good to know, Chad thought, dismissing it as just a dream.

The following morning, an M.R.I. confirmed the dog’s diagnosis.

I was delighted that Chad had good news, and grateful that Jim and I didn’t have cancer but I couldn’t help being a little jealous that Jesse seemed to appear only in the dreams of people who did. If our dog was making post-mortem missions, couldn’t he at least cruise by for one last good night loves?

As Chad settled into our feather sofa — Jesse’s favorite spot — I noticed that he looked better. As if the sun had left the sky and was shining out through his eyes.

He’d found peace. In the middle of the night.

Obviously Jesse was dead, yet somehow, he still seemed to be making animal therapy visits and sharing good night loves. After 5,000 songs, he had more than enough to give away.

Wherever Jesse was, he took our family traditions along. And even if he didn’t come to see us, that was a gift.