BUENA VISTA, Colo. — Charlie was Kelly O’Connell’s “best fur friend.”
“We had tons of adventures together,” she said.
So when she learned her canine companion of 15 years was dying of a brain tumor, she was devastated.
“I adopted him as a puppy,” she said, “I was 19 years old.”
As much as she wanted him to be with her forever, she didn’t want to extend his life in suffering.
“It had been four months of watching him deteriorate,” she said.
To have Charlie at her wedding to now-husband James Garvin was important to her. In the five years since she had met Garvin, Charlie had fit right in with Garvin and his sons.
“(Gavin) grew to love him just as much as I did,” she said, “(Charlie) was a symbol of the coming together of the family,” she said.
Charlie was active and playful during the hours before the wedding.
“He was playing with kids before,” photographer Jen Dziuvenis said. “But the excitement and elevation was too much for him.”
The wedding took place at 9,000 feet near Buena Vista, and Charlie became tired.
So when it came time for Charlie to walk down the aisle, Katie Lloyd, the bride’s sister and maid of honor, stepped in.
“The amazing human that she is, scooped him up and carried him” Dziuvenis said.
Lloyd, 38, carried the 80-pound labrador mix down the aisle.
“James and I dropped to our knees and started crying,” she said.
Charlie died eight days after their wedding, surrounded by his loving family in front of a fireplace.
“It was a beautiful moment,” O’Connell said.
But Charlie didn’t leave without giving them the one last gift of his presence on a really special day. And pictures O’Connell says are “priceless.”
“It’s hard to look at them without crying every time,” she said.
O’Connell says she’ll never forget the smile on Charlie’s face.
“I kept saying, ‘You made it buddy,'” she said, “You made it.”