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Bride’s Best Friend Charlie Bear Wouldn’t Miss Her Wedding for the World

Charlie Bear has been a part of Kelly O’Connell’s life since he was 3 months old. The pair have been through so much together. At 15 years old and dying of a brain tumor, Charlie was able to spend one last adventure with Kelly by watching her walk down the aisle to get married.

As Charlie was carried away from the altar by maid-of-honor and sister of the bride, Kate Lloyd, a persistent volley of tears flushed the eyes of those in attendance. The same can be said for the many who have already shared Charlie Bear’s story. If you intend to read on, have some tissues at the ready.

O’Connell was studying to be a veterinarian when she met Charlie Bear 15 years ago. He was found abandoned outside a grocery store and brought to the animal shelter where O’Connell worked.

“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.

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But her attitude soon changed.

“He came in, and I was like, ‘Yup. I’m taking this puppy home,’” she said.

The two would take on every one of life’s challenges together. O’Connell and Charlie moved from New York to Colorado, where fellow veterinarian James Gavrin and his two sons would make a good impression on both.

“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.”

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That family has been together since 2010 but when Charlie Bear was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2016, O’Connell knew her best friend hadn’t long to live. He began having seizures, at one point five in a single day. Just one week before the Sept. 1 wedding, O’Connell and Garvin made another big decision and called about having Charlie put to sleep.

But Charlie’s seizures subsided as the wedding date neared. He regained enough strength to make it through the big day.

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“I had actually made an appointment for somebody to come to the house and we were going to put him down a week before the wedding, because he had had five seizures and we were just like ‘this is too much, I don’t want to do this for him anymore,’” O’Connell told the Washington Post. “Eventually, it was almost as if he was like ‘no I want to see this.’ He got better.”

As Charlie Bear came down the aisle, O’Connell broke down into tears.

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“James and I just grabbed onto him, and we just kept saying, ‘You made it, buddy, you made it,’” she said.

The 80-pound dog was too weak to make the return trip, so the 5’3″ maid-of-honor stepped in and carried Charlie back down the aisle. Knowing her friend had only days left to live made it hard for O’Connell to keep her composure.

“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.”

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Eight days later, on Sept. 9, 2016, Charlie Bear was put to sleep. O’Connell has photographs of her wedding to remember his last moments by, and knows they were enjoyed.

“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. His body was failing him, but he was happy.”

Wedding photographer Jen Dziuvenis was so moved by the experience, she shared it on Facebook.

“There isn’t enough mascara in the world for these moments,” she wrote. “Dog people are the best people.”

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“This is what love looks like,” Dziuvenis wrote. “Love for family, love for animals, love for your sister. It was just the most touching display of that that I’ve seen, and it was spur of the moment, it just happened, because that’s how these people are.”

While doctors can only do so much to extend the life of a beloved animal, modern technology can provide a lot of hope. Follow this link to read more about innovative efforts in the field of veterinary medicine.

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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and world traveler with a background in journalism, graphic design, and French pastry. He likes to learn new things whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, folk music and coffee.