How Dogs Helped Us Through My Grandpa’s Final Days

A Dachshund and a Maltese warmed his heart, even as he grew sick, and kept my family smiling.


If my grandfather considered himself a dog person when I was a kid, I didn’t really know it. His home (where I lived) was always dog-free. We’d tried our fair share of other animals -– bunnies and goldfish, mostly -– but never dogs. We never talked about them, weren’t around them, didn’t feel like we needed one.

But that changed a little after my parents got a dog. Tiny, a Dachshund, worked his way into my grandfather’s heart, and fast. Grandpa would take photos of Tiny and pass them around to family. He would sneak him hamburgers and other bits of meat whenever he could. He would brag about him to other people.

At family gatherings, Tiny wasn’t just glued to Grandpa’s side -– he would ride along with Grandpa on his motorized scooter. Once, while dog-sitting, Grandpa even got up to cook Tiny a steak for his meal, but he didn’t cook food for anyone else, not even himself.

As I later learned, Grandpa’s soft spot for Tiny came from a childhood dog of his own. His family also had a Dachshund, which was spoiled to bits by Grandpa’s father, too. Suddenly, Tiny and Grandpa’s friendship made sense in ways it hadn’t before. Tiny reminded Grandpa of something precious from his childhood; it was no wonder Grandpa couldn’t wipe the grin from his face whenever Tiny was around. Tiny would help Grandpa forget about all his ailments –- his bad back, his emphysema, his cancer –- and just give him a few minutes of happiness.

In fact, I never thought Grandpa would love another dog as much as his granddog Tiny, but the arrival of my Maltese, Obi, changed that a bit. Now Grandpa had two favorite pups, both of which he wanted to ride around with on his motorized scooter, both of which he liked to sneak hefty bits of meat, and both of which he loved very, very dearly. The saddest part of every family visit, I think, was when Grandpa had to say goodbye to his furry little friends.

It was a nice surprise for Grandpa when my partner, Bill, and I moved closer to home. We were moving to be closer to Grandpa, who was sick, but he didn’t much like to talk about that. He wanted to focus on Obi being nearby. Finally, he’d get to spend some quality time with the little guy.

We told Grandpa to visit whenever he wanted, especially when Bill and I were at work. Obi only lasted staying at home alone one day. The moment Grandpa saw him –- he’d somehow freed himself from his crate and was crying because he was alone –- Grandpa wouldn’t even entertain the idea of his buddy staying at home alone. It was settled: Grandma and Grandpa would watch Obi while we were at work.

“I can’t bear to see the little guy all by himself,” Grandpa said. “We’ll take good care of him.”

They did. So much so that Obi began to look forward to going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Each morning, he’d spend time with Grandma, and the moment he started to hear footsteps, he knew: Grandpa was awake. Time to play!

He’d run to greet Grandpa, toy in mouth, encouraging him to play fetch. Grandpa, no matter how run down he may have been feeling following his chemo treatments, would get on the floor, ruffle Obi’s hair, and play. Grandpa came to rely on him for his daily smiles, and Obi came to rely on him for his daily treats. (Well, someone had to sneak them to him!)

Obi quickly learned that Grandpa was the guy to see if he wanted a bite or two of human food. Grandpa had a notorious habit of “accidentally” dropping food on the floor when the dogs were around. On top of that, he said Obi had those “big, sad eyes,” which made it so he couldn’t resist. They became partners in crime. Obi’s big, sad eyes plus Grandpa’s big, sad eyes made it so I almost always gave in to whatever they were asking (even if it meant allowing Obi to forgo his dog food in favor of rib-eye steak).

Spending every day together became something meaningful to Grandpa. He told me he came to really miss Obi on weekends and the house wasn’t the same without him. We tried to let him spend as much time with Obi as he could, while still giving ourselves time to see Obi.

While Grandpa’s health waned, his love for Obi did not. Something as silly as cancer was not going to keep him from hanging out with Obi as much as he could. Even when he was in the hospital, Grandpa would ask me how Obi was doing. Was he eating enough? Did he get any new toys? What was the latest adventure in adorable?

In Grandpa’s final days, the sight of Obi would bring a smile to his face and often change his entire demeanor. When Grandpa wouldn’t eat, I made a deal: If he ate some chicken, then he could feed some to Obi, too. It was one of the best deals I ever made –- Grandpa ate, even if he did take the tiny piece of chicken for himself and give the huge piece to Obi.

Nothing made me feel as good as watching Grandpa –- who, at that point, could barely speak –- smile and laugh at Obi as he devoured that food. At that point, it was a big victory to see Grandpa act like his old self. It was also a nice moment –- just him, Bill, Obi and I –- and it was, in fact, the last time we would see him that way.

We lost Grandpa in May, and sometimes I think Obi still misses him. For the first few weeks after, Obi was always waiting, toy in mouth, for his buddy to come upstairs so they could play. I think that’s how we all felt.

While I’ll never get over the loss of Grandpa, I am thankful not just for the time I had with him, but for the joy my dog was able to bring to him. Obi, Grandpa’s faithful little buddy, made Grandpa happy. For that, I will always be grateful.

Read more by Crystal Maldonado:

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