One bride will never forget the gift she received from her beloved dog on her wedding day.
Close to fifteen years ago, a 12-week-old puppy was found abandoned in a shopping cart. He was subsequently brought to a local animal shelter, where a 19-year-old veterinary student named Kelly O’Connell was working at the time. The two immediately became best friends, and she named him Charlie Bear.
For the next decade and a half, the puppy steadfastly remained by O’Connell, even on her wedding day while he suffered from cancer. The bride’s pet of 15 years, who was in the final stages of the disease at the time of her ceremony, mustered up enough strength to play a special part in the celebration before passing away. There to capture the particularly emotional moment was O’Connell’s wedding photographer, Jen Dziuvenis, whose photos have since gone viral.
In an exclusive interview with The Knot, Dziuvenis opens up about Charlie Bear’s role in the wedding ceremony. “I didn’t know he would be there, but I wasn’t surprised at all,” the photographer says. “In hindsight, it would have been more of a surprise if Kelly and James hadn’t had dogs in their wedding! The bride and groom are both veterinarians and between the two of them they have five dogs — four now that Charlie is gone.”
O’Connell told BuzzFeed News in a separate interview that Charlie Bear usually “got whatever he wanted,” but a vital part in his life was missing: an extended family. In 2010, the bride met a fellow veterinarian, James Garvin, and his sons, and the missing piece of the puzzle fell into place.
“As soon as I met James and the boys, it was the last thing that I could give him,” O’Connell told BuzzFeed. “We were one big happy family.”
Then, last spring, the dog was diagnosed with a brain tumor after having a seizure during a walk. Following the diagnosis, Charlie Bear’s health began declining rapidly. O’Connell worried that her pet of 15 years wouldn’t live long enough to take part in the wedding, but Charlie Bear held on for the ceremony, which took place September 1.
Emotional images from the ceremony show the ailing dog greeting his mom at the altar. “James and I just grabbed onto him, and we just kept saying, ‘You made it, buddy, you made it,’” the new bride shared with BuzzFeed.
Although Charlie Bear’s walk down the aisle was unassisted, he was too tired to walk back after the nuptials, so O’Connell’s maid-of-honor and sister, Katie Lloyd, carried the 80-pound dog in her arms instead.
“This is one of the most tightly knit, animal-loving families I’ve ever met,” Dziuvenis tells The Knot. “I would expect nothing less of Katie than to scoop up her sister’s dog and carry him up the aisle if he wasn’t able to make it himself.”
The photographer recalls how capturing that sweet walk was “an incredible, but very challenging moment.” Dziuvenis says: “When I realized what was happening, I knew that this would be the story from this wedding and that I had to capture it. But it was hard, because it was so emotional. We lost our own black lab a few months ago, so this really hit home. I had to just keep shooting while trying not to drown my camera in tears. I’m so grateful that I was able to capture these photos for them and that I was able to do this moment justice.”
The post-ceremony festivities were emotional as well. “I was also crying!” she tells The Knot. “This was the moment that really got me. Right after Katie set Charlie down after the reception, everyone gathered around them. The bride was just kissing him and stroking his face and saying, ‘You made it, Charlie. You’re here, buddy! You’re here.’ Over and over again.”
O’Connell told BuzzFeed that she could “see it in his eyes” that Charlie Bear was holding on to see her marry Garvin. “I see his face in these pictures how happy he looked,” she said. “He’s literally smiling.”
On September 9, just over a week after the wedding, O’Connell’s canine companion was put to sleep at home in front of the fireplace. He passed away peacefully while surrounded by his family, according to BuzzFeed.
Dziuvenis is shocked her photos have gone viral. “When I put them up, I thought it would probably just be the family that saw them,” she concludes to The Knot. “I’m so happy that they are out there, though, and that they are touching so many people. This is why I love shooting weddings. Being able to capture these moments for people? It’s one of the greatest privileges in the world.”