Judging from his lovingly written obituary published by NBC Connecticut, Brian the dog was extraordinary in his own ordinary rescue dog kind of way. His owner, Lee DiBella of Watertown, Connecticut, is pretty special too.
“A lover of couches and blankets, Brian had many hobbies,” DiBella wrote. “Some of Brian’s favorite activities included barking at things not there, cuddling alongside you, taking over his mother’s bed, licking his butt, acting like a spazz when it was time to be fed, and trying to figure out who exactly was ‘the good boy.’”
PEOPLE caught up with DiBella, who said her final goodbye to the (possibly) Labrador-Pointer-Greyhound-Dalmatian mix last week, to find out how she was doing — and how the idea for his unique and touching obituary came to her.
“I just thought, ‘If he was a person, what would I say?’ So, I wrote it down, put it in the local paper online, and [the obit] just went through. But then I realized the photo of Brian didn’t go through, so I called them,” she said.
As it turned out, the rep from the paper said they were sorry for her loss, but they didn’t run pet obituaries. “They gave me my money back, even though I said I was willing to pay,” said DiBella. The paper offered to put out an ad instead, but she didn’t want that. Instead, the Connecticut teacher sent a tweet to NBC “on a whim.” The station’s website was willing to run the obit, in its entirety, online:
Brian died peacefully, alongside his mom of nearly 11 years, Wednesday, July 12th, under the care of Stone Veterinary Hospital staff. Brian was adopted by his mother, Lee Dibella, on December 19th, 2006, and quickly became a dog legends are made of. Brian arrived in our home with the ability to not only sit, but also “give paw.” Being able to destroy any crate, gate, door handle or trim and molding in his way, Brian quickly began building loving relationships with all those who came in contact with him, whether it be a new vet, animal control, or whoever’s house he found his way to for an uninvited romp. A lover of couches and blankets, Brian had many hobbies. Some of Brian’s favorite activities included barking at things not there, cuddling alongside you, taking over his mother’s bed, licking his butt, acting like a spazz when it was time to be fed, and trying to figure out who exactly was “the good boy.” In his spare time, Brian dreamt violently, thrashing his legs, presumably chasing dastardly felines or squirrels who dared enter his dreams. The quickest way to Brian’s heart was with a quality scratch of his rear, and a rub of his belly. Brian will be greatly missed by many, but none more so than his mom. Through thick and thin, she loved him with all her heart, and though the pain she feels without him is great, it in no way would compare to having never had him in her life. Besides his mother, Brian leaves behind a sister, Dr. Frigo Delilah, grandmother, Jeannette DiBella; predeceased by a grandfather, David; his uncle, Michael and family; god-mother, Jennifer DeWitt; and many amazing friends throughout the years. At the wishes of Brian’s family, give your dog an extra hug, belly rub, and treat.
DiBella says the outpouring of support since has brought her to tears, but has also helped to ease the heartbreak of losing Brian. “It made my heart so happy that people wanted to learn about Brian. They (pets) are our kids,” she said.
DiBella originally rescued the pup when he was about two years old. A local woman had found him with a lot of wounds and fostered him, but he’d obviously had some kind of training already.
“He was a holy terror, don’t get me wrong. Separation anxiety made him unadoptable, and I was at my wit’s end,” DiBella tells PEOPLE. “But nobody else would put up with him, so I just tried to deal with it so he wouldn’t be put down.”
Over the years, the pair’s bond grew. DiBella tells PEOPLE that she needed brain surgery four years ago, and she credits Brian with helping her to go get treament. “Brian insisted on sleeping on my head. I honestly think he was trying to tell me something,” she says. Luckily, it was a benign cyst.
When Brian fell ill two months ago, DiBella brought him to the veterinarian. He was diagnosed with pneumonia. “The vet was amazing, ran a course of antibiotics and he was back to his old self. But as soon as he stopped, he went downhill,” explained Brian’s mom. “We did more x-rays, and the doctor was worried. We did a month more [antibiotics], and he was trying to play, but he was old. He couldn’t see well, and had trouble hearing … two weeks post the second antibiotics round, he just took a turn. My heart wanted to keep him, but I knew I had to let go.”
Amazingly, Brian got one last chance to celebrate with all his friends at a pool party on the Fourth of July. “He even stole some Frankies hotdogs,” laughs DiBella.
A fifth grade teacher (and Teacher of the Year!) at F.J. Kingsbury Elementary School in Waterbury, Connecticut, DiBella says her students, past and present, and their parents have been offering condolences. “Every day was a Brian story,” she says.
Since his passing, DiBella says that people reaching out has been cathartic. “It’s the biggest personification of how they’re family,” she says. “We deal with deaths of [humans] all the time, and people reach out, but not from across the country! He’s a rockstar and he deserves it.”
DiBella recently took Brian’s ashes home and says his sister, a Lab named Dr. Frigo Delilah, smelled them and just knew. She’s been really heartbroken since Brian left them, so they’re taking a girls trip up to New Hampshire for the weekend.
“For all his destruction, he knew how to construct a relationship,” said DiBella.