Elderly Dog's Last Act of Love Was Playing Matchmaker for Mom and Pilot Who Got Them Home (Exclusive)

After a breakup, a TikToker needed help getting her dog from the Netherlands to California — and ended up finding romance with a German pilot in the process

<p>Photography by Adri</p> From left to right, Adri Pendleton and Niklas Stoeterau and matchmaker pooch Nelly

Photography by Adri

From left to right, Adri Pendleton and Niklas Stoeterau and matchmaker pooch Nelly

If Cupid was a dog, it would be Nelly.

TikToker Ari Pendleton, 29, had been living in Amsterdam with her dogs and her partner for six years when their relationship ended late last year. But there was one major obstacle involved with getting back home to Redding, California: her dog Nelly, who had been a part of her family since she was a teenager.

The border collie, who was 15 at the time, had developed epilepsy in recent years and had recently been diagnosed with a mild heart murmur. Pendleton tells PEOPLE she couldn’t even consider putting the ailing pup in the cargo hold of an airplane.

Although her vet believed Nelly would do just fine flying in the cabin with Pendleton and her other dog Loki, Pendleton says she was unable to find a single airline that would allow a dog of Nelly’s size to travel in the cabin on an international flight. 

Related: Love at First Flight: Woman Told Fellow Passenger She Thought They'd Marry. Now They're Engaged! (Exclusive)

<p>Photography by Adri</p> Adri Pendleton with Nelly

Photography by Adri

Adri Pendleton with Nelly

Pendleton quickly realized the only way to get Nelly back to the States was to get a private flight. Pendleton started a GoFundMe and also reached out to her social media community through a plea on Loki’s TikTok account, which had an impressive 25,000 followers at that point.

“People like him a lot. He has a half-paralyzed face so he’s a funny looking guy,” Pendleton says. “The videos went semi-viral.”

<p>Photography by Adri</p> Loki

Photography by Adri


Loki, and more importantly Pendleton’s emotional pitch for help, caught the eye of German pilot Niklas Stoeterau, 26.

“I felt quite touched and left a comment that I might be able to help with bringing Nelly back to the U.S.,” Stoeterau tells PEOPLE.

Do you have a sweet story the world needs to know? Send the details to love@people.com for a chance to be featured in Real-Life Love, People.com's series dedicated to sharing extraordinary connections and heartfelt gestures.

Stoeterau, who was living in Hamburg at the time, knew he'd be able to take her as far as New Jersey, and better yet, his job allowed him to bring a guest at a greatly discounted price.

“I thought, maybe it’s not California but at least it’s on the right side of the Atlantic and could bring Adri and Nelly closer to home,” Stoeterau says. “I called it my plus one and a half.”

Of course, Pendleton says there was a bit of apprehension when Stoeterau first approached her with the idea. “I have had men take advantage of me in vulnerable situations before," Pendleton says, noting that she and her family did their own background checks first.

<p>Photography by Adri</p> Nelly

Photography by Adri


Related: He Was Hungover, She Felt 'Awful' — But Then He Took the Empty Plane Seat: 'Love at First Sight' (Exclusive)

The two texted for almost two months while firming up the plan. Still, Stoeterau says he was a “little bit nervous” about actually meeting up in person, which ended up happening at about 1 a.m. at an airport in Milan.

Pendleton and Stoeterau spent the next seven hours, which included two stops, getting to know each other, and what started as a mission of kindness quickly turned into something much more.

“It was just something about her,” Stoeterau, who shares her interest in photography and country music, says. “We could talk about the most random stuff and it just feels easy.”

Another plus? Nelly was a fan right from the start

“You’d think she would be a bit shy or not too fond of strangers, but we got along very well through the whole flight,” Stoeterau says.

<p>Photography by Adri</p> Nelly sleeping on the flight from Milan to Newark in January

Photography by Adri

Nelly sleeping on the flight from Milan to Newark in January

After the two parted ways in Newark, New Jersey, in January, they both started thinking about each other.

“A couple of days after the flight, I said ‘You’re very impressive. If you keep this up, I’m going to invite you to California and take you on a date,' ” Pendleton says. “I mean, it was clear that we were both interested in each other.”

Stoeterau agrees, saying “I was happy she made that first step.”

In March, Stoeterau came out to visit Pendleton and to meet her family, who gave him their stamp of approval. But while Pendleton’s followers are ready for a wedding, for now the couple are just taking their time.

"Neither of us actually really feel pressured. We think it's fun that TikTok is so supportive and excited for us, but we're just doing our thing," Pendleton says. "We're happy. So that's what matters."

There are a few immediate changes on the horizon though as Stoeterau has accepted a new job in Switzerland while Pendleton is taking classes in her quest to get a degree and hopefully become a dog behaviorist.

<p>Photography by Adri</p> From left to right, Adri Pendleton and Niklas Stoeterau on his recent visit to California

Photography by Adri

From left to right, Adri Pendleton and Niklas Stoeterau on his recent visit to California

With all the recent travel, get-togethers and future planning, sadly, there has been one missing element: Nelly.

On her GoFundMe page, Pendleton warned potential donors that Nelly was old and might not survive for much longer. She just knew that she wanted to spend every last second with her beloved Nelly, however many seconds, minutes, hours, days, months or years.

Nelly lived a little more than a month in California before she passed. And she had made sure Pendleton had been left in good hands.

“Definitely the ultimate wingman,” says Pendleton, choking back the tears.

For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on People.