Jessie Brothers, whose story — and dog — touched many hearts, is found dead

jwarren@herald-leader.comSeptember 2, 2014 

Jessie Brothers, the Lexington man whose love for his injured Jack Russell terrier, Nubbin, touched many people and led to a reunion with his long-lost son, has died.

He was 66.

Police found Mr. Brothers on Monday when they entered the Lexington home that he bought from Habitat For Humanity this year, his daughter, Jennifer Ryder, said Tuesday.

Mr. Brothers' son, Jessie Kennard of Oklahoma, had asked police to check on him because he hadn't been able to reach Mr. Brothers by phone for several days.

Nubbin, who was at his master's side, was taken into the care of Lexington-Fayette Animal Care and Control, authorities said.

Ryder said she was told Tuesday that the shelter can keep Nubbin for 10 days.

"We have 10 days to find him a home," she said.

Ginny Ramsey, co-founder of Lexington's Catholic Action Center, said many people felt a need to help Brothers after hearing his story.

"Jessie had a spirit about him that drew people to him; that's why people wanted to help him," Ramsey said Tuesday.

"His spirit brought a lot of people together to realize that with just a little bit of help, a lot of people could make it. He's a symbol of what can happen when we surround people with our access and compassion; they don't have to be alone and they don't have to fall between the cracks."

Mr. Brothers' story became known in November 2012, after 4-year-old Nubbin became tangled in a fence while chasing a groundhog and suffered a badly broken leg. Mr. Brothers collapsed in grief when he learned that his dog would need complicated surgery costing hundreds of dollars — far more than he could afford.

A retired laborer who was in bad health himself, Mr. Brothers counted Nubbin as his one true friend.

"He's all I've got," he said at the time. "If it wasn't for him, I doubt I'd even be here."

But help from unexpected sources suddenly appeared.

Two Lexington firefighters stepped up to foot the bill for Nubbin's surgery. He ultimately needed three operations. But when people read about the story, donations of money and other offers of help poured in.

A few days afterward, Kennard read an account of the story online in Oklahoma and recognized Mr. Brothers as the father he had not seen in 30 years. Kennard was raised by adoptive parents after Mr. Brothers and his wife divorced.

After learning of his biological father's whereabouts, Kennard and his wife, Carla, drove to Lexington, where father and son were reunited in December 2012.

Anthony Johnson, one of the firefighters who helped pay for Nubbin's initial surgery, said Tuesday that he learned a lot from knowing Mr. Brothers. "To me, he represented a lot of the people that you can tell need help, but that you sometimes overlook in your busy life," Johnson said. "Jessie was so compelling that he made me take that extra step to actually do something. He made me take that next step."

Some months after Nubbin's treatment, Mr. Brothers learned that he was in danger of losing his small rented home on Whitney Avenue in Lexington because of a disagreement between his landlord and creditors. But more people came forward to help, and the Catholic Action Center arranged for Mr. Brothers to move into a Habitat house. In April, Habitat and the Catholic Action Center made it possible for Mr. Brothers to buy the house.

That was where he died.

"It was the compassion of others who helped Jessie that was an example that you could make a difference," Ramsey said Tuesday. "It was the connection and caring of people that made the difference."

Mr. Brothers often said he was grateful, but amazed, by all the help he received from people he'd never even met.

"You know, money doesn't mean anything if you don't have love," he said once. "God has really shined on me."

In addition to his son, Mr. Brothers is survived by two daughters, Jennifer Ryder and Mary Ann Maynard.

Arrangements for Mr. Brothers were incomplete Tuesday.

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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