Five days ago, the sky fell in, the birds stopped singing and life, as we know it, changed forever.....our darling boy Nelson, stunningly beautiful Weimaraner and patriarch of the entire Miller household, died from internal bleeding and pancreatitis.
It was sudden. On Sunday at brunch, he was sitting underneath the table just waiting for sausages or bits of toast to come his way, as he did every mealtime, but then by 6pm, he wouldn't eat, couldn't stand and his gums were pale. We rushed him to the ER where they couldn't find anything really wrong, except for the fact that he was slightly anemic, but the next day when we got him to Gwinnett Animal Hospital, Dr. Churchill discovered that he had internal bleeding and had lost copious amounts of blood, hence his inability to stand up easily.
Our options were slim. Transfusions, and then surgery if he was a candidate, probably more transfusions after, and then just hope he came through it.
At 14 and a half, we couldn't take the chance that he would die on the table, or in the arms of strangers......after such an illustrious long life, it just wasn't right.
Now, when I say illustrious, I'm not kidding.
This dog, for the last 14 years, has been feared and revered on both sides of the Atlantic. A real-life 'Marley and Me' hero, who changed the lives of our entire family, Nelson was not your average dog.
He came to us as part of a joint collaboration between God...and my sister Melanie.
I say God, because only the Divine, All seeing, All knowing could have any idea that this naughty, naughty boy was what our little family, struggling to come to terms with life back in England after 7 years in the Caribbean, needed.......to pull everything together and get us to focus on what was important in life.
As for my sister, she does exactly the same thing in the U.K. that we do here in Georgia, and she had been walking Nelson, or Nelly as he quickly became, for his owners once a week because that was all they could afford. They had no yard, a young family and never walked him. Dreadful separation anxiety, destructive behavior, off the dial prey drive, food stealing behaviors the like of which I've STILL not seen....she thankfully saw through the complete douche bag that he seemed to be and knew that he needed out. She asked them if she could rehome him and they said "Yes Please".
So she drove him 200 miles to our house for us to meet him.........she said he yodelled most of the way.
Within the first twenty minutes he had eaten his way through a box of cakes on my kitchen countertop, drunk my sisters tea out of her cup while she was holding it and stolen a sandwich right out of our 8 year old son Jakes hand and made him cry. She told us that he didn't come when called if he didn't feel like it, she told us he had broken his leg four months earlier jumping off a roof to get to his owners as he didn't want to be left (yes really!)....she told us, in no uncertain terms, that it would not be easy.
Well, how were we going to turn that down?
Of course we said yes!
In the months that followed, Nelson ate couches and couch cushions, ruined kids parties by eating the whole buffet, chased sheep, horses, cars and motorbikes, howled so loudly that we got noise complaints and, because we lived right by the village duck pond, he developed a taste for algae, duck poop and tried to chase the poor things every chance he got. The bloody dog was a nightmare and I cried myself to sleep more times than I can remember wondering what the hell we were going to do with him?
He went through three trainers, one who ran away telling me that he was the naughtiest dog she had ever met, one who told us to use a shock collar [ off you go, dearie] and one particularly odious man who helicoptered him with a choke chain right in front of me, while trying to grope me at the same time! I used some choice language with him, as you can imagine.
Finally we contacted a behaviorist who explained in no uncertain terms that he wasn't the problem, but we were.
She told us it'd be a long hard job, but if we didn't start trying to understand where he was coming from, then we were pretty crappy dog parents. She explained about his breed specific needs, his drives, his need for mental stimulation, and showed us how we needed to set boundaries. Best advice we ever took, and we took to the work wth gusto. In fact, it set me in particular off on a journey of enlightenment through study and hands on work that made me determined to do for others what Kendall Shepherd, that behaviorist, did for us. Hence our work at the Ranch today...it all stemmed from trying to fix Nelly.
His douchebagerie, for that is the only term I can use to describe who he was at that time, led the way to all you see about our lives now.
So everything was fine then, right?
Nelson was absolutely, without doubt, the most reliable dog I have ever known. You could hands down rely on him to embarrass you in any situation, despite the mountain of training hours put into him.
One summer evening, many years ago, we were walking him in the park, when all of a sudden he disappeared and we were casting around looking for him, when we heard a child screaming. We looked at each other panicked, both of us thinking "Holy sh*t, this is it, he's eaten a kid!'
At that moment, around the corner he comes, with a massive WHOLE 16 inch pizza in his mouth and flapping against his chest as he ran. He had walked through an open door, right into some poor family's dining room, jumped up on the table, stolen their pizza and bailed with it in his mouth!! We were laughing so hard, partly out of relief that there were no human body parts in his chops, that we didn't see the man of the house walking towards us, angry as could be. So we did what any fine upstanding citizens would do...we pretended he wasn't our dog!
(We crept to their house later and put twenty quid through their letter box with a note saying "Sorry, we feel terrible.....please buy your kids a pizza".)
Or how about the time my sister and I took him walking by the local reservoir where he chased and caught a baby rabbit and ate it down in one, right next to a bunch of small schoolchildren enjoying a picnic. Then, to add insult to injury, he barfed it up about ten steps later, pretty much whole still, with those pretty baby bunny ears still visible in the pile of vomit. When a bunch of seven year olds are forced to watch your dog kill 'Thumper" you truly feel like the lowest of the low.
Or there was the time after we moved to the states, he went for a swim in the lake at Mulberry Park, swallowed a bunch of water and started to bloat pretty much straight away. I rushed his soggy carcass to the vets, where they immediately Xrayed him. Doctor Betteker laughingly called me out back and said "Penny, you need to see this.....'
I couldn't believe my eyes when he pointed out a WHOLE FISH lodged in Nellys stomach, the skeleton on the X-ray was like something out of a cartoon! I believe Doctor B still has the slides to this day.
Christmas Day twelve years ago, I took the turkey out of the oven to cool and joined Pete and the kids in the living room to open gifts.
You already know what I'm going to say.....yes, he did.
He ate half the bloody turkey, and got to it by knocking a kitchen stool out from under the breakfast bar, then climbing on the foot bar and propelling himself up. How do I know that's how he did it? Because when I booted him out of the kitchen, I went outside and looked in the kitchen window to see if he'd do it again. Of course he did. He couldn't help himself.
My brother in law couldn't stand taking care of him, because every time he made breakfast toast in the toaster and it popped up, Nelly would go flying through the air to catch the cooked toast before Paul could turn around and get it.
We have had to make reparation to family after family for things Nelly stole out of strollers, kids soccer games in the park where he'd run over and steal the ball, you name it, he did it.
And yet, he adored us.......
Totally, completely, with all of his heart.
Moving to a new country could have been scary for the kids, but Nelly was there, and the new house that Pete and the kids prepared for us all became home when he and Simba, our ridgeback, arrived with me from the U.K. The kids excitedly showed Nelly the yard, showed him where his bed was, his new food bowls....of course I was torn between feeling like chopped liver and thrilled.
He was a celebrity, they put him first in everything, he demanded it but he deserved it.
Every night he slept with one of them; looking back I think it was whoever needed him the most.
During family arguments, he would look fearful and get in the middle of things as if to say 'Guys, guys, settle down......' and honestly, because we didn't ever like to see him stressed, we would settle down, and work out our problems.
From the moment of his arrival, my husband fell in love with him to the point that I always say that Nelly was and is the love of his life. I'm totally fine with it, I know when I'm beat by the better man.
When our son Joe badly injured his back in a car accident, he took more than just a physical knock. Who was there, every day, curled up in his bed right beside him? Just loving him, because that's what he needed.
When Jake took school friends down to the river, Nelson had to go too, just to keep an eye on his boy. And he'd have kept a very watchful eye on him too, unless there were signs of picnicking going on in the vicinity, then he'd have left Jake like a shot!
We all looked at him as a brother and father, rolled into one. His soft, perfect ears always had someone's lips to them, whispering confidences or just inhaling his perfect smell. The curve of his belly was a well designed resting place for a sad forehead.
As he grew older, he lost his voice a little and his bark became a soft, hoarse loud whisper that delighted and saddened us at the same time. As we fed the guest dogs downstairs every night, Nellys sixth sense would alert him that we were feeding the last bunch before heading up to feed our upstairs family pack of Nelly, Noodle and Steve. That hoarse bark would go on until we opened the door and walked through with a pot of stew for his dinner. Then, even at 14, he'd try and knock it out of our hands so he could get his paws on it.
We loved him, and it was a more perfect, sweet and complete love than any of us have ever known and will ever know.
Those of you who know me know that I adore our other Weimaraner Freddie, head of the working dog pack...he is my crush, my love. But Nelly......Nelly was different, it was a bigger love because of all the multiple roles he fulfilled in our lives. He was the squeaky wheel that got the most oil, he demanded attention, he demanded our love, he forced us to learn about him and to change our lives to suit his needs but Oh Boy, how right he was to do that!
We never knew such happiness as when he came into our lives.
He showed us how to take pleasure in life.
He taught us empathy.
He forced us to not take anything too seriously and to not get het up over stuff, because hey..it's ALL just stuff.
On Monday night, our friends at Gwinnett Animal Hospital made it possible for Nelly to die at home on his bed, with Noodle (sh*t eating schnauzer mix) beside him and Steve Miller (joker, smoker and midnight toker) nearby. He could barely move as he was so weak but he accepted our love and our thanks with joy and the wisdom that comes from age and experience.
He then slipped away........and the world stopped.
For five days we haven't been able to talk about this........because talking about it made it become real. When people ask how we are, both Pete and I try to smile, while inside we are screaming "How can anything be alright ever again?'
Grief is something I've experienced many times, but not like this...this is the big one.
But what does it say about the personality and the gift he gave us, that we feel like this? He was larger than life, he was so naughty, and yet so perfect....he shook us up and turned us around and helped make us what he knew we needed to be.
We owe him so much.
I pray my friends that you are lucky enough in your life to experience such a love, for even if you lose it, it never leaves you.
It stays in your heart and shapes your every thought for the rest of your journey.
In this way, that love becomes eternal.
El Presidente, CEO of Desperate Dogs, Nelkinson, Nelephant, Mr Naughty Pants, we idolised you, we always will.
Rest In Peace Darling boy.
(Melanie Benham February 25th 2017)
My thoughts on the irreplaceable Nelson Miller
It all started when I had a phone call from a distraught lady telling me her dog needed more exercise than she had ever imagined and that he was trashing her house when she went to work. I knocked on the door of her house and an uncoordinated, grey, lunatic launched himself at me. Every part of my head said that this dog was going to be a nightmare and just say no but he stopped, just for a moment, and looked at me and all was lost. That was the Nelly effect. Walking him was beyond an adventure – his enthusiasm for anything miles away from where I was meant that a 1 walk usually turned in to 2 (sometimes 3) but his utter joy in being outside and, and with me, kept me going. Penny and Pete were thinking about a dog when Nelson’s owners decided that they could not cope. They came down to visit me and meet him and we all get ready to eat with our parents. Nelson had obviously been plugged in the mains for the previous 24 hours and was on show stopping form – licked the plates and had his head in the coleslaw – made us howl with laughter and they fell head over heels in love. The whole focus of their lives changed and even though Penny thought she was the love of Pete’s life he was never happier than when he was on the sofa, with Nelson Sprawled on top of him, covered with a throw – Nelson sound asleep after being out running Penny ragged for the afternoon!
There are too many stories that involve eating rabbits, railway tracks, hours spent wanting to kill him because he had disappeared and then being so relieved when he finally showed up again. My favourite is Penny and Pete leaving Nelly and Simba with me when they went on holiday and I took him on a coastal walk. Near my home in Torquay there is a stunning stretch of coastline but to get to it you need to walk past a golf course. On the way all was well – 2 hours on the coast path and beach and so well behaved. On the way back to van he disappeared. I then saw him galumphing (made up but entirely appropriate for his running style) across the green amongst the golfers. My reputation as a professional dog carer was slipping away – they were so angry. I called, whistled and then shouted. Nothing. I slowly walked back to where I parked genuinely wanting to kill him and wondering how was I going to tell my sister that her dog was gone. Just before I reached the car park I smelt something really, really, really bad and, in the middle of a tray of decaying fresh fish that someone had dumped, was Nelson, on his back rolling in this putrid mess. I slipped a lead round his neck and got him upright – he covered in fish scales and innards and stinking. He was so happy and proud of his self. It took a week for the smell to go, even with multiple shampooing. He still had a fishy whiff about him when they came back. It was our last walk near a golf course.
I missed him dreadfully when they came to the States but I always got the best greetings when I visited. He knew it was me before I opened my mouth and his joy at seeing me made me love him even more. Watching him run with his big ears and his chops (endearing term for the skin around his mouth) flying was a heart rending sight for me – he was a dog that was larger than life and who relished being in the world. He was maddening - selectively deaf, always hungry, liked to disappear, injure himself, steal food and chase anything BUT he was also full of the joy of living, gave the wettest, sloppiest kisses, could fit himself in to a tight space if it meant a cuddle, could spend all night under a duvet, in boiling weather and not move, or suffocate, could clean a dish better than any dishwasher and could catch a piece of toast popping up from the toaster before my husband even realised it was ready.
He was a prince amongst dogs, a one off and utterly unforgettable. He is lodged deep in my heart and will remain there forever. Night night big gorgeous boy, your auntie Melanie hopes your dreams of endless walks and bunnies to catch has finally come true xxxxx