Kelly O’Connell’s wedding day holds a profound significance for various reasons. On one hand, it represents the happiest day of her life as she united with her best friend.
However, the day was bittersweet as it also marked a farewell to her cherished companion, Charlie Bear. A 15-year-old black lab mix diagnosed with a brain tumor five months prior to the ceremony, Charlie bravely made his way down the grassy aisle but was unable to stand after the ceremony began. Responding with love, O’Connell’s sister, Katie Lloyd, gently scooped Charlie up and carried him down the walkway, placing him in front of O’Connell and her new husband, James Garvin.
O’Connell’s connection with Charlie began at the tender age of 12 weeks. Found abandoned in a shopping cart outside a grocery store, Charlie entered O’Connell’s life when she was working at an animal shelter while studying to become a veterinarian. Describing the moment, O’Connell shared, “I wasn’t looking for a dog. I was only 19 at the time and in veterinary technician school, not actively seeking to be a pet owner. But when I saw him, I knew he was meant to be my dog, and our bond was instant. Despite our history of being independent, Charlie became an integral part of our lives. Meeting James and the boys completed our family, and it was the greatest gift I could offer him. We became one big happy family, and Charlie, adored by the boys, became an indispensable part of our lives.”
Charlie Bear’s diagnosis of a brain tumor in April brought devastating news, with a grim prognosis. A week before the wedding, Charlie experienced five seizures and appeared to be in considerable distress. O’Connell and Garvin reluctantly made arrangements for him to be euthanized. Surprisingly, during the week leading up to the wedding, Charlie exhibited no seizures, walked without difficulty, and seemed rejuvenated.
“He was my marathon training partner, capable of running 20 miles with me—he absolutely loved it,” reminisced O’Connell. “It broke my heart when they discovered the brain tumor. He had five seizures the week before the wedding, and we contemplated putting him down. However, he showed signs of improvement, and we decided to wait. Witnessing the happiness on his face that day made it all worthwhile. He genuinely wanted to be there, and I’m grateful he was.”
On September 1, O’Connell and Garvin exchanged vows with Charlie Bear and one of their five other dogs by their side. Overwhelmed with emotion, O’Connell confessed to breaking down when Charlie Bear walked down the aisle towards her. She recalled, “James and I just held onto him, repeatedly saying, ‘You made it, buddy, you made it.’ Despite his failing body, he wore the biggest smile, happy to witness my wedding. Sadly, Charlie passed away nine days after Garvin and I tied the knot.”