Lauren Fern Watt had been through everything with her 160-pound English Mastiff, Gizelle: boyfriends, college, and a move to New York City. But then she was told that Gizelle had terminal bone cancer, and had only a few months left to live.
Watt had gotten the nearly 8-year-old Gizelle in her home of Tennessee and taken her with her on her big move.
"Gizelle wasn't just a pet, she was some extremely special mix of my daughter, best friend, roommate, and everything in between," she told BuzzFeed News. "It was so hard to grasp life without her."
Though she was devastated, the 25-year-old told BuzzFeed News that she knew she had to do something special for Gizelle's last months to make them the best she ever had.
In an essay published by Yahoo, Watt wrote about her idea for the final adventure she would have with her dog:
My sobbing seemed unstoppable, but Gizelle was sensitive and didn't like to see me cry. I had to be strong. So I decided we would bury our worries in the dog park and create a bucket-list adventure of everything we wanted to do before she died. It was my mission for us to indulge and explore life's joys.
The two would jump in the ocean without towels, cook lobster, search for waterfalls, and nap in the grass.
"I wanted to enjoy my last months with Gizelle and really cherish our life together, instead of focusing on being sad about the fact that she had cancer," she told BuzzFeed News. "Travel is a huge passion of mine, and Gizelle was a big motivation to go on new adventures with her while I still could."
First up, a canoe ride. The duo loved to watch The Little Mermaid together, and the scene of the boat ride with Prince Eric was one of their favorites.
I was determined to get all 160 pounds of my easily spooked pup into a canoe. I tried to keep from wobbling as she hesitantly tip toed in one paw at a time. We weren't quite as graceful as Ariel and Prince Eric. Gizelle was confused by the paddle splashing water in her face, and when a spider jumped onboard, we nearly capsized as I swatted at it with a life jacket. But when a light breeze picked up, Gizelle plunked her heavy head on the side of the canoe as we floated across the water, and I could almost see the wind tickling her jowls. I know she was embracing the quiet and nature that we didn't have in New York City, because I was, too.
Next was an early-morning visit to Times Square.
The streets were clean – no tossed Broadway-show brochures or trash, the sun was rising, and it was pretty empty except for some smiling families huddled outside of the Good Morning America offices clutching coffees. We stood at the Crossroads of the World and realized it did sparkle like it's supposed to. It was magical.
Gizelle and Watt then took a trip to cook two perfect lobsters at Well's Beach in Maine.
Before cooking them at a friend's beach house, I freed the lobsters to tap across the kitchen floor with Gizelle. She sniffed at them like they were her dog pals, and I almost felt bad for how short-lived this friendship would be. But we kissed them each farewell before plopping them in the pot. I fed Gizelle hot buttered lobster chunks with a fork, so I'm sure she didn't mind too much.
The next stop was eating ice cream together on a peaceful dock and watching the boats float by.
The travel writer and PR professional told BuzzFeed News that these quiet moments were her favorite.
"I loved getting out of noisy Manhattan and into nature. I know Gizelle really appreciated this too. Probably the canoe or sitting on the dock watching the boats and eating ice cream [were my favorite parts]. Such simple things, but they're impossible to find in crazy Manhattan."
The next adventure was a girls-only road trip through New England with Watt's best friend, Rebecca, and no set destination.
We'd take turns sticking our heads out the window, and didn't worry about work, deadlines, or boys. In fact, our only real problem was navigating with a paper atlas (we'd sworn off Google Maps for a smartphone detox) and trying to figure out if Gizelle preferred Taylor Swift or the Beach Boys.
Of course, they made sure to cuddle as much as possible.
Sure Gizelle was bigger than me, but she never knew it. After I discovered she was dying, dog hair on my once-forbidden bed and slobber on my face didn't seem to matter as much as spending time cuddling with Gizelle. She helped teach me that love is the most wonderful gift I can receive, and it is the best thing I have to give. My lap became her desired seat, and it was awesome.
They also spent a whole sunny day people-watching in Washington Square Park.
We were serenaded by a man strumming an out of tune guitar with broken strings, talked to a guy with a fish tattooed on his face, and helped a lady in the red kimono feed the pigeons and bird call at the hawks. (Gizelle always introduced me to more people than my sometimes reserved personality allowed me on my own.) It was then I realized how proud I was to live in such an odd place — and looking over at my 160-pound slobbery roommate, I realized we fit right in.
Next, they went to a party to meet a cute boy dog. That's where they found Auggie, and the two flirted over a little beer pong.
Gizelle had always been my wing girl for picking up guys in the East Village; now it was her turn. When I found out a friend was having a party with 19 adorable single dogs on the invite list, I knew this was Gizelle's chance to meet someone special.
Gizelle's appetite began to disappear as she got sicker, so as a treat they went to find what they heard was the best doughnut in the world, up the coast of Maine, at Congdon's Donuts.
These donuts were so fresh they took unusual shapes and had mini air-filled dough bubbles. We sat in the grass and ate the whole box. And you know what? I still don't feel bad about it!
Then they went to meet Santa for Gizelle's last Christmas.
Since she might be afraid of a "tall man with a big beard," they settled for these three Santa's helpers.
Although the dogs didn't seem to notice each other much and the pugs weren't as jolly as a human Santa, I still made sure to pass them Gizelle's Christmas list of rib eyes, hotdogs, and vanilla ice cream.
The day before she died earlier this month, for their last adventure, the two sat by the ocean in Maine as it snowed.
Part of me wondered if this was her plan all along, to take me on an adventure, knowing we'd end up on a deserted beach alone. The sky was white, the trees were bare, and even the birds were hiding. The whole world felt lifeless, and it was hard to believe this beach was once filled with rainbow-colored umbrellas and cute boys lathered in SPF.
It was then I realized that I was okay with letting Gizelle go. Just like I had faith that the trees would sprout lime green leaves again and kids with yellow buckets would splash in the water once more, I had faith I'd carry Gizelle with me. Even in the emptiness of that beach that day, I could see Gizelle running free long the shore, rolling in the sand, awkwardly spooked by approaching waves. I knew she would live on through my experiences, and that I gave her the best life I could. And that to me was infinitely healing.
Watt told BuzzFeed News that losing Gizelle was harder than she ever imagined it would be, but that the bucket list helped her come to terms with the loss.
"Her last day was so much harder than I ever could have expected, but I also had so much comfort knowing we had done so much in the past months and lived life so fully," Watt told BuzzFeed News. "I knew it was her time, and her bucket list really helped me navigate that."
Photos and story used with permission from Lauren Fern Watt.