How I Am Helping a Dying Pet Parent Keep His Beloved Dog Until the End


I can’t imagine not having Riggins, my-11 year-old German Shorthaired Pointer, with me when I need him most. This is one of the main reasons I began volunteering with PAWS/LA. The non-profit organization was founded in 1989 to help pet parents with AIDS. Since then, it has widened in scope to also assist low-income seniors, other low-income individuals disabled by a life-threatening illness, and veterans. The group’s purpose is simple: These people need the love and companionship of their pets more than ever, but they often require help to keep them — PAWS/LA and its volunteers provide that help.

In July, the organization partnered me with Jim and his dog, Frankie, to help them stay together for as long as possible during Jim’s life-ending cancer. He had three to six months to live and needed someone to walk his dog, as he no longer could.

Frankie Blue Eyes! (Photo by Wendy Newell)
Frankie Blue Eyes! (Photo by Wendy Newell)

My first meeting with Jim and Frankie was brief but full of love. As I walked up to their apartment, Frankie came bounding out to meet me, with not just his tail but his entire butt wagging, and then he walked me back to see his daddy. Meeting Jim was difficult. It was hard to believe that the man standing there, all smiles, wasn’t going to be around in just a few short months. It was unreal, and I had to fight hard to keep from tearing up. After a quick discussion about what his pup liked to do, Frankie and I headed off for a walk around the neighborhood.

Frankie and me on our first walk together. (Photo by Wendy Newell)
Frankie and me on our first walk together. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

I committed to taking Frankie out twice a week. He joins Riggins and me for a walk on Wednesdays, and he also joins a group of my friends and their pups on our Saturday hiking adventures.

Wednesdays are great. I pick up the sweet boy, and we head out to walk around a local park, although my pup normally puts on the breaks and demands to go to the dog park a block away instead. I’m a sucker, so I often give in, and Frankie and I follow Riggins into the fenced area where the two of them can run wild, playing and chasing balls.

Dog park fun! (Photo by Wendy Newell)
Dog park fun! (Photo by Wendy Newell)

As fun as our Wednesday walks are, our Saturday adventures are even better. Since I don’t have to rush off to work, we have more time to have fun! I lead the local hike, and the humans and dogs alike are happy to have joyful pup Frankie join us. He is such a good boy that he will happily walk next to Riggins or any dog I have on leash with him, and he carefully shares their water bowl on breaks.

Frankie and Riggins on a hike break (Photo by Wendy Newell)
Frankie and Riggins on a hike break (Photo by Wendy Newell)

It’s important to Jim for Frankie to have these adventures with us. The cancer has spread to his bones, and doctors can do nothing more than manage Jim’s obvious discomfort. It is a losing battle, and it shows on his face. I get to see Jim less and less now during my pickup and drop-offs — Frankie’s dad just can’t make it out of bed, but he has told me how important Frankie’s love is to him and how Frankie will carefully come up on the bed to cuddle with him. The sweet dog loves and wants to be there for him as much as possible.

Just last week I had the flu. I had hoped I would feel better when Wednesday morning came around, but I didn’t. I had no choice but to text Jim and tell him I couldn’t be there for Frankie. This lovely man responded, telling me to take care of myself. Can you imagine? This man, whose days with us are counted by months and not years, told me to rest and feel better. It made me cry. It was too much to accept. How can someone facing what Jim is being forced to accept be so kind to me and my silly little flu bug?

Frankie watches as Jim films a promo piece with folks from PAWS/LA in the hopes of helping more people that need assistance. (Photo by Wendy Newell)
Frankie watches as Jim films a promo piece with folks from PAWS/LA in the hopes of helping more people who need assistance. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

When the time comes, Frankie will go live with his new mom, one of Jim’s caretakers who fell in love with the dog’s sweet nature and beautiful blue eyes. In the meantime, for as long as Frankie needs me, I will be there for him. It’s my job to help Frankie so that he can be there for his dad. As much as Frankie loves to see me, he is even happier when I drop him off and say, “Go see your daddy.”

PAWS/LA does amazing work. I urge you to visit the organization’s website to learn more and, if possible, donate money or time. You can also find PAWS organizations in other parts of the country. It’s an experience that not only helps animals AND their humans, but it will be an amazingly rewarding experience for you, too.

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