Bellingham couple's canine family grows during island honeymoon

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 6, 2014 

Ashley Nelson and her husband, Michael, were married at AM/PM Beach in Sudden Valley with about 150 friends and family members attending.

C. JACKSON PHOTOGRAPHY & EVENTS — COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

After the rush of getting married, a honeymoon is usually a welcome reprieve, allowing couples to get away from responsibility and relax for a while.

For Ashley and Michael Nelson, that meant leaving behind Michael's now 13-year-old daughter, Hailey, and their two dogs, Yoda and Roxie, for their honeymoon in Hawaii.

But only five hours after arriving in Oahu, they were on their way to the beach when an emaciated dog greeted them. He was missing half of an ear and was in rough shape, but the two dog lovers knew they couldn't leave him there. They took him to a vet, who told them the local humane society would likely have to put him down because of his poor health.

"We couldn't handle that, so we asked if we could adopt him, and they said 'yes,'" Ashley recalls. "People thought we were crazy."

After a trip to the pet store for all the necessities, they spent their nine-day vacation with their rescued friend and flew him home. Zeus, who is part American bulldog and, they think, part mastiff, is now a healthy 65 pounds and gets along great with his new family.

Ashley and Michael first met at an after-school job while they were in high school, Ashley at Bellingham High and Michael at Squalicum High. Michael's daughter was 2 years old at the time.

A few years later, in 2003, Ashley and Michael started dating, and after nearly a decade together, Michael proposed. They were married Sept. 14, 2013, at AM/PM beach in Sudden Valley in front of 150 friends and family members.

Because the wedding was held in a field, Ashley's father helped make a freestanding doorframe for the wedding party to walk through. He found wooden doors at The RE Store and burned them with a torch to fit the country casual theme. Burlap and lace streamers decorated the frame.

Ashley's grandfather officiated the wedding and helped her pull off a surprise that was a secret even to her bridesmaids.

"The doors got shut after my maid of honor went down the aisle," Ashley says. "The DJ started playing the traditional wedding song, which was not what I was going to walk down to."

Her bridesmaids knew the wrong song was being played and they started to look concerned. Everyone stared at the doors for 30 seconds, waiting, but nothing happened. That's when the DJ cut the music.

"My grandfather leans in to Michael and says, 'Dang, I thought you'd be the one to run,'" Ashley recalls.

"Then one of my groomsmen leans in and says, 'Well, we've got food and beer, so we can at least throw a party,'" Michael says.

Little did the guests know that Ashley had been watching the wedding from the top of a hill next to the ceremony, a chance rarely awarded to brides.

"They only usually see the doors opening and closing from the back," Ashley says. "I got to enjoy it from the front."

The DJ started the right song and Ashley and her father walked over the hill and toward the altar as the sun shone through the trees. It took Michael a minute to pull his gaze from the doors and realize his bride was coming down the hill.

"She looked absolutely beautiful," he says.

At their reception the newlyweds offered a barbecue menu and cupcakes from a private baker in Lynden. They grew the dahlias used for decorations at Ashley's parents' house, and Charming Dresses by Design made her dress, which came in under $400.

They live on south Lake Samish with their three dogs. Hailey spends the week with her mom and weekends with Ashley and Michael.

Reach DEAN KAHN at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2291.

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