Sometimes the smallest things help us through the hardest times.

Oliver Bruce O’Brien weighed 8 pounds.

He had bright button eyes, a sweet fuzzy face and a personality that filled an entire room. The first time he and Ken O’Brien met for a belly rub, the tiny Yorkie puppy wrapped his paws around O’Brien’s wrist and held on like he was never going to let go.

For the next 14 years, Ken and Oliver were a package deal.

Oliver joined him at the office and rode shotgun in the car and in O’Brien’s messenger bag. You may have met them on a Minneapolis patio, nattily dressed in matching outfits. You may have caught Oliver’s signature trick: rolling a ball almost as big as himself around the room with his wee front paws.

“A boy and his dog. Two halves make a whole,” said O’Brien, who made little hats for Oliver and set up Facebook and Instagram accounts for his admirers. “Anyone and everyone who met Oliver, for 14 years, absolutely fell in love with him.”

But Oliver was getting older, and sicker, just when the world was getting scarier and lonelier. In the middle of a pandemic, when so many people were rushing out to get puppies to keep them company during lockdown, O’Brien lost the little Yorkshire terrier who had been his constant companion and emotional support.

Oliver died on Aug. 4, 2020, wrapped in his favorite blanket, in the arms of his favorite person.

“I was totally and utterly alone,” O’Brien said. “The only thing I ever had was Oliver, but I was completely content because he was mine and we did everything together.”

But O’Brien wasn’t alone. He was surrounded by an entire community that understood the hole an 8-pound dog can rip in your heart.

Not long after he lost Oliver, O’Brien took his car in for a tuneup, with Oliver’s blanket still spread across the front seat and Oliver’s nose prints still smudged on the passenger window.

Everyone at Motorwerks Mini in Golden Valley knew Oliver, who always arrived dressed to impress in an endless series of little hats, vests and bow ties. O’Brien gave the shop a heads-up before this visit so he wouldn’t have to answer any painful “Where’s Oliver?” questions.

When he picked up his car afterward, they’d left Oliver’s nose prints on the glass, untouched. On his favorite blanket, there was a tiny stuffed dog and an envelope, recording a $300 donation to a Yorkie rescue, in the name of Oliver Bruce O’Brien.

“Every time Ken would come in, Oliver would be with him,” said Michelle Phelps, service manager at the dog-friendly Mini Cooper dealership.

“He was just literally the kindest, sweetest dog we’ve ever met,” she added. “We just wanted to give our condolences to Ken on the loss of his best friend.”

Sometimes the smallest things help us through the hardest times.

One of Oliver’s red toy balls rests like a memorial on the staircase in the Minneapolis offices of CBX, the brand strategy firm where he spent so many of his days. No one has the heart to move it. There was an outpouring of condolences and so many floral bouquets, O’Brien is surrounded by flowers three weeks later.

“It’s so nice when people genuinely say they’re going to miss my dog, and they know he was more than just my dog,” he said.

This is a story about a boy and his dog. It’s the story of the difference small kindnesses make in a world that feels strange and distant, when nearly everyone is lost and grieving.

“In this day and age and this time, when we have to stay apart to stay together, it’s just sort of amazing that people rallied,” said O’Brien, who lost his emotional support animal, but not his emotional support.

“I really got a lot of emotional support after he died,” he added. “It went from Oliver to everyone around me.”

 

Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @stribrooks