October 31, 1994 to August 26, 2008

“She was the child I never had” 

Pumpkin, a stunning Rhodesian Ridgeback with a miraculous sixth sense and healing effect on the sick and elderly, passed away of undetermined causes last August. “She was the child I never had,” said her still grieving owner, Annie Nelson of Mission Viejo. “She had very human qualities…an old soul with a keen sense of people and their needs.”

Scheduled for a routine visit to the veterinarian the day she died, Pumpkin, about 14, seemed fine, Annie said. Not a sign of the cancer she had so courageously whipped five years earlier.

Pumpkin was something, all right.

The pairing had a magical element

With a coat the color of sun-drenched wheat and eyes of darkest amber, she lit up Annie’s life from the instant she foot in it on Oct. 31, 1994, the date that became the pup’s unofficial birthday. Like so many things relating to Pumpkin and Annie, the pairing had a magical element. Close to losing her life in a terrible industrial fire in Norwalk, the puppy was rescued by Norwalk firemen and taken to the firehouse. Annie lived in Long Beach at the time, and a neighbor who raised and showed Rhodesian Ridgebacks told her about the fire and asked if she was interested in adopting the puppy. It was love at first sight, Annie determined to cure the frightened baby of her traumatic ordeal.

She brought the orphaned pup home on Halloween, her house decorated with baby pumpkins. Trying to think of a name for her adorable charge, Annie yelled out Pumpkin! “and the name stuck.” Pumpkin validated her new handle by chewing up the decorations.

African Lion Dogs

Distinguished by a ridge of hair that grows along the back in a reverse direction to their blond or reddish coats, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are a cross between a variety of hounds imported to South Africa by Boer settlers in the 16th and 17th centuries and the ridge-backed dogs kept by native tribes. Used throughout history for hunting, retrieving, guarding, and supervising children, these magnificent animals were legendary for helping South African hunters ward off lions – thereby earning the name African Lion Dogs. Trained to track a lion, hold it at bay, and turn the feline away when it charged, Rhodesian Ridgebacks – recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1959 – were never bred to attack or kill. Thus their gentle, protective nature.

With her wide chest, aristocratic stance, and muscular frame, 90-pound Pumpkin manifest all the physical attributes of the breed at its best – as well as the intellectual ones. Her uncanny gratitude, for example.  It was almost as if her life were dedicated to thanking Annie for recognizing her worth and bringing her into her home. Like many Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Pumpkin possessed an amazing capacity to repay every kindness, every affectionate gesture, every treat – if only with a look of absolute devotion.

Company for seriously ill children

While these dogs can be reserved with all but their owners, not so Pumpkin. “After her puppy years, she became an amazing dog,” said Annie, who took Pumpkin along with her to visit the elderly in nursing homes and to Ronald McDonald House to provide company for seriously ill children and their families. “She was a love to everyone she encountered,” Annie said. That included Annie’s parents, both of whom cherished Pumpkin’s company during their battles with cancer.

After Annie’s dad sadly passed away in September of 2002, Pumpkin “knew exactly where his ashes were housed in a walled columbarium and went to sit below the spot without being shown or told or nudged,” Annie said. “She discovered my mom’s cancer as we were grieving over the loss of my dad.” Pumpkin detected the location of the tumor, just as she detected sadness in others and lavished them with her unconditional love and affection.

Helped set the standard for affordable chemo prices

During Pumpkin’s own fight with cancer five years ago, her courage following surgery and during six tough weeks of chemotherapy helped set the standard for affordable chemo prices for other animals. This happened after Annie discovered the drug was the same as that given her father, but way more expensive when administered to animals. Her friend and vet, Dr. Kristi Fisher, was easily persuaded to shop around for the drug, which she found at a reasonable cost.

After Pumpkin died and the veterinarian hospital sent a technician to retrieve her body, many hospital staffers who had known Pumpkin came in on their day off to say goodbye. “That’s what an amazing dog she was,” Annie said.

Homemade French fries…and peanut butter

You know how someone can be described as a people person? Well, Pumpkin was a people dog. “She captured everyone she was around and became everyone’s dog,” said Annie, who will never forget the time she took her beloved pet to Illinois to meet her 90-year-old grandma. “Grandma ended up fixing Pumpkin all kinds of treats, including homemade French fries.”

Along with watching TV, especially any show with dogs, Pumpkin loved to snack on peanut butter, bananas, veggies (yes, the human kind) and, of course, chew on a good bone. She leapt upon any excuse to take a ride in Annie’s car, or have a play date with her boyfriend, a neighbor’s Golden Retriever named Chandler. When Christmas came, Pumpkin gladly donned her red Christmas sweater, the one with the golden angel wings, and strutted around like she owned the place. Which, in a way, she did.

The American Soldier Network

Annie knows Pumpkin is still around, guiding her, encouraging her in her most important work: spreading national awareness about the need to honor and thank the men and women of the United States Military. As founder of the American Soldier Network, Annie Nelson supports the troops in various ways, including raising funds for everything from treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to assisting families of the fallen.

To this end, Annie imagines Pumpkin at night, lying at the foot of her bed, sleeping peacefully and helping her dream big dreams.

Pumpkin is survived by her owner, Annie Nelson, Annie’s mom Carol Nelson, and Chandler, of course.

Memorial contributions may be sent to American Soldier Network at www.americansoldiernetwork.org, a California 501c3 charitable organization.



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