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Man finds loving home for senior rescue dog 3 days before passing away from ALS

Terminally ill people want to be assured that their loved ones will be okay, even after they’re gone.

That’s precisely what John Weston, a man dying from ALS, wanted before the time came for him to go. The San Francisco resident had a senior rescue dog named Pawpaw, who had been living with him for three years.

However, when his health began to quickly deteriorate in the spring of 2019, John knew he had to find a loving home for his best friend before he goes.

Sherri Franklin with Pawpaw and his former owner John Weston

Muttville Senior Dog Rescue

The staff at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, where Pawpaw was adopted, was ready to help John. Sherri Franklin, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization, had placed Pawpaw with John—her neighbor—three years ago. She had promised to help him when his ALS prevented him from taking care of the 16-year-old pooch.

Staying faithful to her vows, Sherri immediately took action when she received John’s signal that it was time.

Muttville called for potential adopters on their social media accounts and included a photo of John and Pawpaw.

Bernie Knobbe, who lives in Los Angeles, happened to be in San Francisco for work when he came across the post. He got the chance to meet Pawpaw on short notice when another potential adopter fell through. The pair instantly bonded.

Bernie Knobbe and Tim Belavich with their dogs

Bernie Knobbe and Tim Belavich

While Bernie was playing with Pawpaw on the floor, John asked his caregiver to summon Bernie to his bedside. He then removed his oxygen tube so he could talk.

“John put his hand on my arm and he just said, ‘You’re a good guy. This is good,'” Bernie recalled. “It was emotional. Everybody was crying in the room. It was obviously meant to be.”

That was the last time John and Bernie spoke. Three days later, John passed away. Sherri, who was also in the room during Bernie and Pawpaw’s meet up, believes that John had been hanging on to life until his dog found a suitable home.

“I think he met the right person and he could finally let go,” she said. “John left this world happier.”

Bernie and his partner Tim Belavich had already adopted three other dogs from Muttville. Since taking in Pawpaw, they’ve been doing their best to honor the trust that John has given them.

Thankfully, Pawpaw quickly settled into his new home. He had squeaky toys and loved playing with his dads’ schnauzers, Ella and Henry.


Bernie Knobbe and Tim Belavich

But five weeks later, they rushed Pawpaw to the emergency room due to high fever and sepsis. He recovered and was diagnosed with megaesophagus, a condition in which the esophagus dilates and loses its ability to push food down into the stomach. This means the poor dog couldn’t keep anything down.

A friend of Bernie’s and Tim’s was kind enough to build a custom chair for Pawpaw to eat upright. The intelligent dog quickly learned to back into the tool and associate it with mealtime.

“He looks like he’s at a bar ordering a drink, like it’s happy hour all the time,” Bernie said. “He just sits with his paws on the thing as if to say, ‘OK, bring it on.'”

Though mealtimes have become more complicated, the couple has no regrets about adopting Pawpaw. He gets up slow in the mornings, but even as a senior dog, his new owners say he still acts like a puppy most of the time.

Bernie Knobbe and Tim Belavich with their dogs

Bernie Knobbe and Tim Belavich

What endeared them more to Pawpaw was the knowledge that the dog spent about a decade helping an older woman with hearing loss prior to living with John.

He would alert her when someone was knocking on the door, when the phone was ringing, and about other noises. When she passed away, Pawpaw came into Muttville.

“We say Pawpaw spent a lot of his life taking care of others,” Tim said. “So now it’s time for Pawpaw to be taken care of.”

Bernie himself was adopted when he was six months old, and adopting dogs like Pawpaw is a way for him to give back. He hopes that other people will also consider adopting older pets because they deserve a loving home, too, just like every other companion animal.

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