Photo by Jeannette Brodeur.
Photo by Jeannette Brodeur.

This month, our family is celebrating the birthday of our beloved rescue doggie, Nelson. He’s 14 years old and 20 pounds of pure love and feistiness. We’ve had Nelson since he was a tiny pup…just three months old.

I was searching on Petfinder for a rescue dog all those years ago and I thought Cairn Terriers were very cute. When we lived in New Jersey, one of our neighbor’s had a Cairn Terrier (like Toto) and the little dog was very sweet. We already had a big dog, Max, who was an older black lab/shepherd mix, but the kids wanted a puppy. I did too! We had to wear my husband Todd down about getting another dog, but the kids persisted and he finally agreed. We all promised to take care of the new puppy.

So I searched terriers and didn’t find any Cairn Terriers in our area, but I did find a pup that was a Norfolk Terrier mix. Her name was Nala like the character in the Lion King, which all the kids loved. She was a lovely brindle brown with pretty brown eyes.
So I emailed the rescue lady, who was from Newtown, to see about meeting Nala. This woman drove her van from Connecticut to kill shelters in Georgia each month to rescue dogs. She asked for references and even checked with our vet to make sure we were responsible pet owners. We passed the test.

We met her on a Saturday afternoon at a Dunkin Donuts parking lot with cash to pay her. It might have looked a bit shady, like a drug deal, if someone was watching this from the parking lot.

Plus, I was discrete about paying her because Todd did not know that this dog cost $350 and not “around $200” like I first told him, but I wanted a dog and the money went to help pay for the lady’s costs to bring the dogs to Connecticut and to care for them before they were adopted.

The lady opened up the side door in her van and she had a crate of several puppies from the same litter, including Nala. My husband Todd looked at all of the brown puppies and saw a funny little white puppy with brown brindle ears and black spots in the middle. Todd asked what his name was. The woman said, “His name is Nelson!” We heard that name and looked at his face again and we fell in love. I mean how many dogs named Nelson have you met?

When we first brought little Nelson home, Todd was a bit worried that our big dog Max might eat this tiny puppy. Todd put Nelson in a big cardboard box and brought him inside and then I brought Max into the house and let him sniff the box. Then Todd slowly opened the box and Max poked his nose in and Nelson let out a little bark. Max’s expression looked like he was thinking, “Oh no, not a puppy!” Max did not eat Nelson, but Nelson surely must have gotten on his nerves a bit. Nelson loved running underneath Max and constantly wanted to play. Nelson was so small, he fit in Todd’s hand.

The kids were away for the day when we brought Nelson home, and Todd wanted to surprise them. They came in the front door and saw tiny Nelson just sitting on Todd’s lap.

“A PUPPY,” they all yelled in unison. I think Harley may have said it was the best day of his life!

Max was already two years old and fully trained when we got him so having a puppy was an adjustment for all of us. It was like having a toddler. You had to watch Nelson every single minute or he would sneak off and pee somewhere or get into trouble. We couldn’t even sit down and watch TV.

Nelson did eventually get better about letting us know when he needed to go to the bathroom, but he still had enough energy to equal 10 full-sized dogs. I started taking him on long hikes while the kids were at school just to wear him out. It worked. He would often be asleep in the car before we even got home.

Even as Nelson got older, everyone thought he was still a puppy because he was so small. One of our neighbors remarked that Nelson was so cute that he could be in the movies. He caused quite a stir when I walked him into the neighborhood. Kids always wanted to pet him and he was good with little kids.

We did all learn that terriers can be very stubborn and they are very, very smart. Each morning, I would have Nelson wake up Aaron and Jilly for school. Nelson was smart enough to know that Aaron, who has autism, didn’t like a lot of noise or fuss, so Nelson would gently hop up on his bed and quietly sit there so Aaron could pet him. But he also understood that Jilly loved to play so he would jump on Jilly’s bed and snuffle and snort and lick her.

One night when I had just made biscuits to go with dinner, we were all getting ready to sit down and eat and little Nelson hopped on one of the chairs at the table and then jumped right on the table and stole a biscuit right out of the basket. We were all too stunned and laughing too hard to be mad at him. From then on, Nelson’s nickname was “the biscuit stealer!”

Nelson also has a fondness for wet cat food, so we have to watch him at group feeding time. Unlike most little dogs, Nelson seems to have an iron stomach since the kids still love to hear the sound of him eating Cheetos now and then. He also loves carrots. At a recent visit, Grandma even made her granddog Nelson an “eggy” just for him at breakfast. Nelson charms anyone if they give him snacks and he knows how to spell T-R-E-A-T.

But I don’t doubt that if someone tried to break into our house, Nelson would give a good nip to an ankle or leg and he would certainly bark a lot. He may be only 20 pounds, but in his mind, he is a big dog and he loves his family. He tolerates our two cats, but sometimes he barks at them if they get too pushy and try to take his food.

Tall people tend to make him nervous. When Uncle Seth watched Nelson for us one weekend, Nelson growled at him no matter what he did, but then he would still curl up with him on the couch and sleep with him each night. Then in the morning, Nelson would hop down and bark at him. Seth is still a bit hurt by it all, but maybe if he makes Nelson eggs as Grandma does, he’ll come around.

At age 14, Nelson now naps a lot and doesn’t want to take long walks, but he still has a pep in his step when you ask him if he wants a treat. His hearing is going a bit and he can’t see as well, and the kids aren’t home as much, but Nelson still runs right for the door with his tail wagging whenever we come home, just like he’s still a puppy.

I did tell Todd how much Nelson did cost that day after we brought him home and I think we all now agree that our little Georgia pup was worth every penny. Happy Birthday, Nelson! We love you!

Jeannette Brodeur has been a journalist for more than 30 years and wrote a human interest column for the New Jersey Herald, the Naugatuck Daily News and the Citizen’s News for many years. She and her husband Todd have three adult children: Harley, Aaron and Jillian, as well as an aging rescue dog named Nelson and two rescue cats named Reeses (like the candy) and Clarence (like the angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life”). They live on Highland Lake in Winchester/Winsted.