“It was a phenomenal moment. It was a phenomenal 15 years.”
Charlie Bear, a 15-year-old black lab mix battling a brain tumor, lived just long enough to see his human get married earlier this month.
The bride, Kelly O’Connell, met Charlie Bear when he was just 12 weeks old. After being found abandoned in a shopping cart outside a grocery store, he was brought to the animal shelter where O’Connell was working while studying to be a veterinarian — and it was love at first sight.
“I wasn’t looking for a dog,” O’Connell told BuzzFeed News. “I was 19, still living with my parents and going to college. It was the worst time in my life to even attempt to get a dog.
“He came in, and I was like, ‘Yup. I’m taking this puppy home,’” she said.
Charlie became her “best friend.” The two of them “grew up together” and moved from New York to Colorado.
In 2010, she met fellow veterinarian James Garvin, fell in love, and moved in with him and his two sons.
“Charlie got whatever he wanted,” O’Connell said. “But I couldn’t offer him a family. As soon as I met James and the boys, it was the last thing that I could give him. We were one big happy family.”
Charlie Bear was diagnosed with a brain tumor last April after having a seizure while on a walk. The prognosis wasn’t good.
One week before the wedding, Charlie had five seizures, and seemed to be suffering quite a bit. O’Connell and Garvin made arrangements for him to be put to sleep.
But, during the week leading up to the wedding, he had no seizures, no trouble walking, and “seemed like a whole new dog,” O’Connell said. She thought he might actually make it to the wedding.
“I just thought, I want him to see this,” she said.
O’Connell and Garvin were married on Sept. 1, with Charlie Bear, and one of their other five dogs, by their sides.
O’Connell said she “immediately broke down” when Charlie Bear walked down the aisle to her.
“James and I just grabbed onto him, and we just kept saying, ‘You made it, buddy, you made it.’”
Charlie was too tired to walk back, so Katie Lloyd, the maid of honor and O’Connell’s sister, scooped up the 80-pound dog and carried him back in her arms.
“It hit home for me when I saw my sister carrying him back down the aisle,” O’Connell said. “That this was it, we’re now talking days.”
The photographer, Jennifer Dziuvenis, told BuzzFeed News that “everybody started bawling” when Charlie was carried away.
Jennifer Dziuvenis / Via Instagram: @jendzphotography
“I heard Katie say, ‘Charlie, I can’t leave you behind,’ before she scooped him up,” Dziuvenis said.
“I think he was really happy to be there,” she said. “I mean, obviously he didn’t understand what was happening, but this is his family.”
O’Connell said she can “see it in his eyes” that Charlie held on in his final days for her.
“I see his face in these pictures how happy he looked,” she said. “He’s literally smiling.”
“He wasn’t suffering — he was having the time of his life,” she said. “His body was failing him, but he was happy.”
Charlie Bear was put to sleep a little over a week later on Sept. 9.
He died peacefully at home, in front of the fireplace and surrounded by his family.
O’Connell said having Charlie at her wedding, and having photos to remember him by, “means the world.”