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.
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.