Here’s to Pawpaw: From Rescue Dog to Career Service Dog


It’s been said often that we don’t rescue pets. They rescue us. Pawpaw, a 16-year-old terrier mix, has a story to tell about that.

He spent nearly a decade assisting an older woman with hearing loss by alerting her to noises like knocks at the door and phones ringing. After she died, Pawpaw entered the Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco.

He was then paired with John Weston, who was in the early stages of Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

They had a great run for three years, until Weston eventually needed a wheelchair. Pawpaw would put his paws on the chair, allowing Weston to pet him.

But in 2019, the time had come for Pawpaw to move on again. The disease was now too debilitating and getting the best of Weston, and he could no longer care for Pawpaw. Sherri Franklin the founder and CEO of Muttville who had placed Pawpaw with Weston (and was also his neighbor)  — had promised to help Pawpaw find another forever family.

“I really wanted John to be taken care of and his feelings to really be taken into consideration,” Franklin told TODAY. “It was just this overwhelming sense of duty to do this for him.”

Meet Bernie Knobbe and Tim Belavich, who took Pawpaw into their home in Los Angeles. They all got to meet at Weston’s home before the adoption.

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

Three days later, Weston died.

It’s been a great run for Pawpaw. He loves playing with the couple’s schnauzers, Ella and Henry. But he’s dealing with some health issues too.

He has trouble eating because the muscles in his esophagus don’t work properly. But Bernie and Tim have figured out a workaround. A friend of theirs developed a special chair that allows gravity to help food reach Pawpaw’s stomach.

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

Happy hour indeed. Here’s a toast to Pawpaw, and the unconditional love he’s bestowed on his owners, wherever he goes.

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