The Soul of a Dog

Dean Pagani
4 min readMay 1, 2023

Is it possible that the soul of a dog transfers from one dog to another?

About twelve years ago I had to put one of my two dogs to sleep. He was a yellow lab. He had lived about twelve years and he could no longer control his bodily functions — that was the biggest problem. I had just moved into an apartment building and his accidents in interior public spaces were not as acceptable as they had been when I was living in a house I owned. He was deaf and he may have had dog dementia based on his general behavior. It was time, but that did not make it any easier.

I remember a long conversation I had with my vet about what to do. I was pushing the conversation round and round looking for a way out, looking for him to give me permission to make the final call, or for him to make the call for me. He of course wanted the decision to be mine and I knew he was done being patient with me when he said, “As we bring this conversation to a close…” A few days later I lifted Bailey into the back of my car and he was driven off for the last time.

A month later I was out for a walk when I spotted someone walking another yellow lab across the street from me. The dog stopped when he saw me and sat down. He stared at me. He seemed to know me. He looked exactly like my dog and he seemed both happy to see me and confused. The look in his eyes was asking why I did it. Why did I send him to the vet, why did I let the vet give him that shot, why; when he had so much left to do in life?

It was an unsettling experience. I am not a superstitious person. I am not someone who believes the dead — human or animal — stick around in some spiritual way to continue trying to communicate with us. But this dog seemed to be the reincarnation of my dog and the way he looked at me was deeper than mere curiosity. He was accusatory, disappointed, and waiting for an explanation.

I moved on, but I never forgot that dog or the look on his face as he judged me from across the intersection. I think of him from time to time when I think of Bailey and I wonder if that dog walking with the stranger was attempting to say goodbye in a way I had avoided on the day Bailey was driven to the vet.

A few weeks ago I had a similar experience. I had just finished running and I was walking back to my car. Ahead of me was a man walking a yellow lab about Bailey’s size, shape, and age when he died.

When I got within twenty-five yards of the man and his yellow lab the dog glanced back and seemed surprised to see me gaining ground on them. He sat down and stared at me. His owner didn’t notice and kept walking until the leash ran out and his dog refused to move. He looked back and asked his dog what he was doing. His dog ignored him and just looked at me.

As I drew closer his tail began to wag. Just a bit at first and then harder and harder until the dog’s entire backend was moving side to side on the ground. He raised his head toward me, showing me the underside of his neck. His back began to curve outward the way dog’s backs curve when they are about to roll over and expose their belly, but he did not go that far.

This dog too looked like my dog and I had every intention of walking over to him and saying hello, but his owner asked the dog, in a child’s voice, “What are doing? He’s not going to stop and pet you.” I took that as a signal that the dog’s owner did not want me to reward his dog’s stubborn behavior by stopping to say hello. It would only encourage similar behavior with other strangers and make his short walks long. I said hello to the owner and kept walking and then I heard the man say to his dog, “Can we go now?”

I glanced over my shoulder and caught a glimpse of the lab still watching me and asking why I didn’t stop. My heart sank. Once again I had let down a yellow lab that reminded me of Bailey.

It’s probably important to note that I meet lots of dogs during the course of my days. Some ignore me. Some say hello. I stop when I can, but I keep moving when I sense that’s what the owner wants.

In these two cases, the matters of these two yellow labs, I feel quite certain something else was going on. These two dogs knew something about me and wanted to connect. Was it the look on my face, or did they share some spiritual connection with the dog I had to say goodbye to a dozen years ago?

When people die we are told they live on in our memories. They live on in the things they taught us during the course of our relationship with them. In this way their soul lives on. It’s a comforting way to explain death. It is somewhat reassuring. It deadens the pain of loss. What of the souls of dogs? Do they live only in our memories, or is it possible they move from one animal to the next? One old dog to a random puppy who meets us by accident one day and wonders why they are so drawn to a human they have never met.

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