Kelly O’Connell was afraid her dog Charlie wouldn’t make it to her wedding. The 15-year-old black lab mix had been suffering from seizures and his health was deteriorating by the day. Just five months before they were to exchange vows, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Charlie was barely holding on.
It was heartbreaking for Kelly to see him suffering so much so that it almost became too much to bear. Kelly and Charlie were best friends.
Charlie was found abandoned in a shopping cart in the freezing New York winter and was brought to an animal shelter where Kelly, 19 at the time, was working. She didn’t want a pet, she wasn’t even looking for one. But when she laid eyes on the tiny shivering puppy, she just knew.
“I was only 19 at the time and in veterinary technician school and wasn’t looking to be a pet owner,” she recalls. “But when I saw him I knew he was my dog and we’d always be together.”
“It was just kind of like, yeah he’s mine.”
They were inseparable ever since.
When Kelly moved to Colorado, Charlie came along with her. When she trained for marathons, Charlie trained with her. When she met her now-husband James Garvin, also a veterinarian, her first thought was ‘Will Charlie like him?’ Luckily, he did. Charlie adored James and his two sons and they adored Charlie.
But after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor just a few months before the wedding, it became clear Charlie didn’t have much time left. Her once “super high energy” dog struggle to muster enough strength to even walk.
“It broke my heart, he had five seizures the week before the wedding and we considered putting him down, but he seemed to get better, so we waited,” Kelly, 33, explained. “Eventually, it was almost as if he was like ‘no I want to see this.’ He got better.”
By the time the wedding day rolled around, Charlie was doing well and even wore a big smile on his face. He hobbled down the aisle behind the bride and groom but he couldn’t make it back. Charlie was too weak to get up and walk.
That’s when Kelly’s maid of honor and sister, Katie Lloyd, picked him up and carried him up the aisle. After the couple exchanged vows, guests congratulated Kelly and James, but the bride and groom dropped down to the grassy aisle and congratulated Charlie.
“I just kept saying, ‘you made it buddy, you made it,’” Kelly said she and James hugged the big Lab. “He just had a giant grin on his face.”
Nine days after they exchanged “I do’s”, Charlie passed away in front of the fireplace cuddled up by James’ two sons.
“…When I look at the pictures, especially the one where the flowers are all around him, I just think he looks so happy in those pictures,” she said. “I just think to myself, despite that feeling of did I push it too far, or did I force him to stay around for this wedding, looking at those makes me think, he just wanted to see that, us come together, and I guess his mom be taken care of.”
“It was worth it to see the happiness on his face that day. He wanted to be there and I’m glad he was.”