Dad’s Tiniest Caregiver, Gizmo

In Memory Of My Father, Richard Baldauf

On Sunday, December 11, my father, Richard Baldauf, lost his brave struggle with dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). I am feeling so many emotions, but instead of focusing on me, I want to share an amazing story of God’s grace that I experienced firsthand

Five years ago, my father was diagnosed with dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), a form of dementia that shares characteristics with both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.  From day one, I felt helpless because Dad could no longer enjoy the many things we used to do together like talk politics, do puzzles or work around the house. Up until this summer, I felt bad that I couldn’t do more for him, but that all changed when I found Gizmo, a rescue Pomeranian pup who changed Dad’s last six months in a way that I couldn’t.

Dad never really had indoor pets, but for years had a loving Chow mix named Lucy. As Dad’s illness progressed, Lucy came in during the day to keep Dad company. Unfortunately, Lucy was diagnosed with cancer in November of last year and died at home the following February. My mother, sister and I gave Dad some time to grieve, but we were anxious to get Dad a new canine companion, perhaps even a little lap dog. We made several attempts and even brought one home for a trial visit, but Dad was adamant that he didn’t want another dog.

dad-and-gizmo-for-lmc

Dad and Gizmo, his faithful companion.

As Dad’s somewhat rebellious daughter, I wasn’t going to take Dad’s refusals lying down. My sister and I kept our eyes open and even checked local rescue websites, but we hadn’t been able to find the right dog. Then one fateful Saturday, I was shopping at Harbison and stopped by PetsMart on a whim. There were several rescue groups on site, but I only saw puppies and larger dogs. I sighed in disappointment and decided to try again later.

On my way out, I spotted one last rescue group, Fairfield County Animal Adoption Center. At first glance, I saw no small dogs, but a volunteer told me they did have a rescue Pomeranian named Gizmo, but he was outside being walked. As we waited for his return, she told me that Gizmo’s first home was with a wheelchair bound man and that the dog would sit in his lap all day. That was my first tinge of hope. Dad used a walker, and any dog who rode in a wheelchair probably wouldn’t mind a walker. She went on to explain that when Gizmo’s owner passed away, the dog went to an abusive home where he was beaten with canes and brooms and generally neglected.

At that time, in walked a volunteer with a precious little bundle of fur that was Gizmo. I may have been on the fence before, but I was immediately determined to adopt Gizmo for Dad. I tried to call my sister to get a second opinion, but couldn’t reach her; I just took a giant leap of faith and adopted Gizmo. Janice screened me well and asked a lot of questions, but thankfully was as convinced as I that this was meant to be.

Fast forward to Mom and Dad’s house, where I walked in with Gizmo.  Dad had no more made that funny face and started to say no when Gizmo jumped in his lap; the rest is history. Within the hour, he was telling us, “This is my dog!” And indeed, Gizmo was Dad’s dog. He took to Dad immediately, and in the coming days, their bond grew exponentially. Quite simply, Gizmo gave Dad unconditional love and friendship that truly enhanced his quality of life in his final days.

These are just a few of the examples of how amazing Gizmo was for my dad:

  • Gizmo stayed by Dad’s side practically 24 hours a day, seven days a week. During the day, he sat on Dad’s lap in the easy chair in the living room, and at night, slept right beside him.
  • Gizmo made it easier for Dad to have guests.  With Gizmo, he always had something to talk about.  He could easily make conversation about the dog, while remembering current events or previous visits were more difficult for him.
  • In addition to the love he provided, Gizmo also became Dad’s smallest care giver.  On many occasions, Gizmo sounded the alert that help was needed. Once, when Dad was struggling to get out of the bed while Mom was making breakfast, Gizmo ran into the kitchen and barked until Mom figured out what he was trying to tell her.
  • Gizmo was loyal to Dad to the end. Gizmo camped out on Dad’s bed, and even when Dad could no longer speak, he nearly always had a hand on Gizmo. Even after Dad passed, we couldn’t pry Gizmo from Dad’s side, so we let him stay and say his goodbyes.

These days, Gizmo is still supporting Dad – this time by pouring out his love on my mother. He’s already sleeping with her, and with Gizmo there, Mom is never alone. For my sister and I, visiting Gizmo is like having a little of Dad right there with us.

In the opening, I mistakenly suggested that I found Gizmo. That’s not quite right. I was just God’s conduit, a way for Him to deliver the gift of Gizmo to my father. There are a lot of things I don’t understand about God, but this I know for sure: God bundled up his grace and love in that sweet, furry package especially for Dad.  And for that, I am most thankful.

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