Our Story

 Our Story - Part II

Pure Joy

“Dogs’ lives are short, too short, but you know that going in....

You know the pain is coming, you’re going to lose a dog.

So you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy

or delight in her innocence. There’s such beauty in the hard honesty of that,

in accepting and giving love while always aware

that it comes with an unbearable price.”

– Dean Koontz




As someone who deals in the arena of grief, of losing one's best friend, I am suddenly ill-equipped these days.  It seems all the advice I give to you all, I seem to struggle internally for myself being on this side of the story.


You do know the day you welcome that puppy into your home, you will one day be taking their last walk out the door with them.  So, yes, in-between the first hello and last goodbye are countless days of coming home to tail wags and kisses, balls dropped at your feet, looks of longing for a bite of your apple or lick of your yogurt.  Sundays become "egg day"  - for everyone.  You can no longer say certain words out loud.."walk", "lake", "boat", "dog park", "ball".  Your evenings are about  sharing your blanket while watching your favorite shows and snacking on your favorite treat (because you both love cheez-its!). You learn how to command your "ship" and that "boat naps" are the best naps. Your life is now about shared moments.  Your life has greater meaning. 




And if you have built your work-life around that puppy, all the better!  Now you have a co-worker to confide in, to bounce ideas off of; an office mate who spends hours each day concepting the next product line (sure, she snores but it's small price to pay).  And a coworker who will remind you it's play time, lunch time and quitting time. 


Nelli was all of that and more for me and my husband, Tom. 


Nelli was the dream dog Tom & I could only imagine having one day. As a rescue, she exhibited a sense of gratitude for her new life we were not expecting from a dog. Her unbridled enthusiasm for life brought pure joy into our daily lives. Not one day in the past 11 years went by without a smile. You just couldn't look at Nelli and NOT smile along with her.

  Nelli's first night in her new home, Oct 18, 2008



And making us smile was what we truly needed five years ago when I was diagnosed with a rare cancer tumor inside my spinal cord. The diagnosis came with uncertainty of our future. I faced an agonizing surgery and rehabilitation to walk again that would take another 2-years.  The month I spent away from Nelli made it even more heartbreaking for me.  Videos and pictures of Nelli from a friend who was helping out brought the smile I needed.  And the surprise visit during my last week healed my heart as she was quick to snuggle up in my hospital bed with me.  My fear that she had forgotten about me dissipated.  Nelli brightened those dark days in a way no one else could.  And to be able to walk with her on the trails again, became a huge motivator - and walk we did!



Whether Nelli was in the studio working on her candle empire, modeling dog coats for a local dog coat company, taking command of "her boat", enjoying a frosty paw, or skipping through the dog park with the best stick.....She did it all with a gusto....She lived every day as if it were her last.


Feb 12, 2020 was her last.  And it was beautiful.  Just as she deserved.


Yes...it has taken me months to write and publish this.  It seems to drum up pain each time I type; the pain seems to stay at the surface.  Months later, it doesn't seem real that she's not here. While we are heartbroken, we are relieved she is free from the pain of arthritis, seizure issues, and degenerative disc disease.  Ironically, Nelli had succumb to a disease of her spinal cord - which was most heartbreaking as I understood her pain.  But I was determined to get her through it as she got me through my struggles. So over the recent years and months, we tried everything along the way to make life comfortable and happy as her issues progressed.  Water therapy, physical therapy exercises, meds, CBD oil and a special tendon brace. As her ability to walk became more difficult, we got her a wagon so she wouldn't miss out on walks and boat rides.  After all, we were a pack; we did life together no matter what.  




Tom and I will forever be grateful for the care over the past 11 years at Anderson Lakes Animal Hospital and two years at Twin Cities Animal Rehab. We owe a debt of gratitude to Blue Pearl this past year in helping us get "bonus time" since Nelli's degenerative disc disease diagnosis in October, 2019.  And finally, we would not have gotten through the last days with Nelli without MNPets and the care they took with all three of us, making Nelli's passing the most peaceful, most beautiful we could have asked for (a guardian angel even cue'ed up "Unforgettable" on our Alexa at the moment of her passing, followed by "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" as she was driven away...hello, Angel Maggie??).


All along during these years of pure joy, I knew this day was coming.  But knowing this does not make it any easier.  I'm just thankful for every ball dropped at my feet, every quizzical look staring back at me, every apple shared, every day at the dog park, every run we took to the fishing pier and wine shop. Every boat outing and every dive she took; she was our "Chuck-it Champ of Lake Minnetonka".  I'm grateful for all the birthdays shared, every sloppy kiss (and there were lots!), and all the flowers we sniffed along the way.  Most of all, I'm grateful she taught me to slow life down a bit, to truly take in my world and enjoy every snowflake and the smell of the trees in springtime.  

         NelliDesigns Pet Memorial and Gift    nellidesigns                        


Work has not been the same these past few months without her in the studio.  She seems to be everywhere and part of each candle that goes out the door. Her bed sits empty in the corner of the office (yes, she had the "corner office", of course!), with her favorite toy, "Hippie the hippo", who is missing her as much as we do.  Her bed under my studio table with ther name plaque, is a constant reminder that for 11 years, she "worked" as my studio mate. But these are also reminders that I will forever be grateful for her partnership in creating this business; I couldn't have done it without her. 

I recall the morning our very first online order came in...followed by another and another.  All came with stories of pets who were deeply loved and whose memories needed to be honored.  I remember my shock and excitement about the business; I looked at Nelli and said, "I think we have a business!"  (I think she was as shocked as me that we were getting orders).  And I sat with Nelli and cried as we read the stories one after another.  I had felt alone when Maggie passed away, and now my lonliness had transformed into something bigger than myself - and I had someone to share it with.  While I don't have Nelli here, I will continue with this business in honor of both Maggie and Nelli.  Know I'm still here for you.




Nelli was pure joy.   Plain and simple.

 Until our hearts heal a bit, we will be navigating life for the first time without a dog.  As hard as it will be, I think we will be ok with our two "guardian angel dogs" - who will be greeting every dog at heaven's gate with a candle.  And when the time is right, Maggie and Nelli will direct us to our next best dog. 

Until then, we will be burning our candles for Nelli & Maggie knowing they are out in a boat on heaven's lake.........we're sure Nelli is now "Chuck-it Champ of Heaven Lake".


 A BIG Thank You to Sarah Beth Ernhart of Sarah Beth Photography for capturing the very essence of Nelli in so many of these photos here and throughout the website over the years, and giving us such amazing memories of our girl, our Pure Joy. We love you, Sarah!

And THANK YOU to Robb Burnham of GOWACSO.COM for capturing Nelli's personality so perfectly in your illustrations, including our logo, and for donating your proceeds to so many worthy pet rescues. 



Our Story - Part I

Chaos, Patience and Joy


kathy and a dog named maggie


From a young age, I always had a love for animals – dogs in particular wagged their way into my heart at an early age. I grew up with our family dog, Wendy, from the time I was eight to age 20, so I knew I would always have a canine companion in my life.

So soon after Tom and I married, we adopted Maggie; a cross breed of dalmation/golden retriever. And she was the light of our lives, with boundless energy that seemed to be bigger than life itself.  As she sprinted through our lives — uprooting every houseplant, eating our couch, flying high for Frisbees, swimming for hours whenever she could, and slithering into our bed sneaking those sloppy, wet dog kisses — we knew we had the greatest dog ever.

 But in 2008, after 14 years of pure canine love, we had to come to terms with Maggie’s failing health due to arthritis.  As much as we didn’t want to hear it, Maggie was telling us it was time for us to let her go; to be brave and make the ultimate decision for her.  She had lived a full and happy life with us, but it was time for her to move on with the grace and dignity we were to give her as one last gift.   It was in her eyes – she was ready.


remembering maggie


Most of us don’t have funerals for dogs. So, when Maggie passed away, we realized there were so few accepted ways to express our grief. And after receiving her ashes back, I still needed something of comfort. So, I started lighting a candle next to her photo and ashes every night.

And it seems to soothe something inside.

As the months passed, we sat in our “empty” house wondering if we could ever love another dog. But time passed, and while we knew we would always miss Maggie, our hearts began to feel ready for another canine adventure.  And we knew Maggie would want us to pass along our love to another deserving dog.


then along came Nelli

Nelli, a 2-year old lab from Homeward Bound Rescue Organization of Minnesota.

It has been through Nelli that we realized Maggie gave us many gifts —teaching us the true meaning of unconditional love and the importance of giving it, not just once, but throughout your life.

Maggie’s Light Memorial candles are Nelli’s way of honoring Maggie – the dog who taught Tom and I how to love beyond ourselves, understand what is really important, and how to enjoy the simple pleasures of rolling in the grass and taking long walks through the woods. 

So in 2008, Maggie’s Light Memorial candles were created to honor the dog that taught us how to love.

And, more importantly, how to love again.