21 June 2018

Bold, curious and crazy about four-legged friends, it was no surprise that six-year-old Charlotte Bacon from Newtown, Connecticut, wanted to be a ‘doggy doctor’ when she grew up.

“A normal 20-minute family walk would usually take 40 minutes with Charlotte,” smiles mom, JoAnn.

“What’s your dog’s name?” She’d greet every dog-walker in her adorable sweet-raspy voice, with a huge smile on her face.

“Can I pet him?”

“How old is he?”

Charlotte thought that all dogs were special, but no pup could quite match the love she had for her best pal, Lily.

Lily’s the beautiful golden labrador that the family rescued when Charlotte was three years old. Charlotte and Lily shared a very special bond.

Charlotte's Litter- Charlotte and her dog LilyCharlotte and Lily adored each other

“Charlotte really wanted Lily to be her dog and so, she would entice her into her bedroom with a treat, shut the door, and monopolise her attention,” laughs JoAnn.

“I used to say that Charlotte loved Lily more than Lily loved her, but I’m not so sure anymore.”

On December 14, 2012 the entire world was devastated by the tragic news of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

A real force of nature, brimming with energy, Charlotte was among the 20 first-graders who lost their lives that shocking day.

sandy hook shootings newspaper coverage People around the world were shocked by news about the tragedy

“The pain of her absence is so intense. We have lost so much,” says JoAnn simply.

Struggling to make sense of her overwhelming loss, JoAnn has spent a lot of time in Charlotte’s room, as a way of feeling close to her precious girl. From the very first heartbreaking day, devoted Lily has stood sentry at the door.

“I think she is grieving Charlotte,” says JoAnn, who adds that since the day her little girl never returned from school, the faithful dog has never crossed the threshold, but patiently waits outside her room.

It’s as though Lily senses the space where her beloved little mistress should be.

Charlotte's Litter - Charlotte Bacon playing with dog Lily in the yardCharlotte was such a force of nature

Still alive in all their hearts, JoAnn, husband Joel, and Charlotte’s older brother, Guy, have been filling the void in their daily lives with charitable projects inspired by the indomitable spirit of their amazing girl.

“She was my only daughter and we had so many memories left to make,” says JoAnn.

After Charlotte died, the family set up the Charlotte Helen Bacon Foundation. The legacy organisation supports programs with a focus on helping animals, children and bereaved families.

It’s building futures, spreading hope and helping people to hold onto their own memories of someone they loved with all their heart. They’re certain it would have a big thumbs-up from their funny, free-spirited, curly-haired girl.

“We strive to honor Charlotte, her beautiful life, and her dreams,” says JoAnn.

Charlotte's Litter - portrait of Charlotte BaconJoAnn and Joel’s beautiful girl

Charlotte’s passion for dogs, and the incredible bond she shared with Lily, is at the heart of two of the projects that her Foundation helps.

Charlotte’s Litter supports and helps schools establish and sustain a school based therapy dog program, while The Charlotte Helen Bacon Foundation also provides a scholarship fund to help veterinary students at North Carolina State finance their studies. Charlotte dreamed of becoming a vet.

Charlotte is also the inspiration behind a beautiful picture book, Good Dogs, Great Listeners – about a little girl called Charlotte who learns to love to read, thanks to her four-legged friend Lily and the litter of soft-toy dogs she leads on an unforgettable adventure.
Charlotte's Litter - JoAnn with her book, Good Dogs, great listenersCharlotte’s vivid imagination inspired this wonderful story book

The book reflects a little girl with a vivid imagination, who’s often a little distracted by the adventure she could be having next – leading to the occasional mishap.

Always keen to try something new, Charlotte tried virtually every activity you can think of, from gymnastics, ballet and hip hop dancing, to Irish dance and swimming.

But before long, she’d move on to the next thing.

“Too much stretching and exercising,” she’d explain so her mom could understand, as JoAnn tried hard to keep a straight face.

“It was these sort of statements that left me laughing all the time. She was hilarious and so vibrant,” she says.

“One evening as I was preparing dinner, Charlotte learned about bat houses on a TV show. Before Joel walked through the door an hour later, Charlotte had drawn a design diagram and gathered materials to build the bat house with her daddy.

“And there was no putting her off till the next day, so Joel and Charlotte stayed up all evening and built the bat house just like her design.

“It is hung in our yard to this day.”

Charlotte's Litter - Charlotte Bacon in pink It wasn’t difficult to spot Charlotte’s passion for dogs

Always up for an adventure, Charlotte was the perfect partner for Mom’s shopping trips and lunch dates.

“She would say things like, ‘I just want to go into New York City and walk around and see what’s happening’.” And so that’s exactly what they would do.

Charlotte loved to wear her hair braided in “piggies”.

“You’re brushing too hard, Mom!” she’d protest, wriggling, as JoAnn teased out the tangles, as gently as she could.

Everyday routines, little mother and daughter moments, can be among the things that seem unexceptional, but JoAnn has come to miss them the most. Sometimes, she’ll brush and plait her own hair as she thinks about Charlotte.

“She can no longer wear pigtails, but I can wear them for her.”

For Charlotte, family time was the best and they all loved spending weekends in the backyard. Here, she was always glad to ‘help’ – picking the flowers before they came into bloom, ready for games, fun and mess. Playing with Lily, marshalling her menagerie of stuffed toy animals, and teasing brother Guy.

That was their little girl: a mischievous, exuberant, joyful soul.

Charlotte's Litter- pink flowers A pick of the bunch for Charlotte

Now in spring and summer, the garden comes into full bloom with a host of flowering plants chosen for Charlotte in her favourite colour – pink.

“Joel and I are always planting flowers we know she’d like,” says JoAnn, who feels certain Charlotte would wholeheartedly approve.

“She would absolutely love all of this,” JoAnn smiles.

“I hope, through everything we’re doing, she knows how much she is loved and missed. Her joy will live in our hearts forever.”

##The Charlotte Helen Bacon Foundation

The Charlotte Helen Bacon Foundation was established to support programs that care for animals, children and families.

“Each program and organisation we support is hand selected and held up to the standard – is it good enough for Charlotte?” say JoAnn and Joel.

The foundation welcomes donations to help continue its mission, in their very special girl’s memory.

Good Dogs, Great Listeners

“This is probably the most meaningful project we’ve done since Charlotte died,” says JoAnn, who co-wrote the book with Joel and author Renata Bowers.

Good Dogs, Great Listeners is the funny and endearing story of adventurous Charlotte, Lily and a litter of six stuffed puppy toys.

“The book is so authentic to Charlotte, right down to the clothing.

“It also includes some of Charlotte’s original drawings.”

The Dogs of Newtown

Inspired by the first book’s success, Charlotte’s big brother, Guy, has also authored a book.

The Dogs of Newtown is about the therapy dogs that visited Guy’s school after the Sandy Hook tragedy.

“These dogs brought a lot of comfort during a crazy time, and our son benefitted from having them there,” explains JoAnn.

“Guy wanted to write a tribute book to the dogs that helped him so much, and dedicated the book to Charlotte because he knew she would’ve loved the dogs.

“In many ways, our family has come to think that Charlotte sent these dogs to us during our most desperate time.”

Charlotte’s Litter

Charlotte's Litter therapy dog

Charlotte’s Litter was formed to honour Charlotte’s unconditional love of dogs. The program was inspired by the comfort and love that therapy dogs provided family and friends after Charlotte died.

It advocates for and supports dog therapy programs to support children in the school environment .

Charlotte Bacon Veterinarian Scholarship

Charlotte dreamed of becoming a vet, so JoAnn and Joel launched * The Charlotte Bacon Veterinarian Scholarship* through NC State College of Veterinary Medicine & Veterinary Hospital, in her memory.

The scholarship has so far been awarded to six veterinary students, helping them realise their own dreams and fostering within them a determination to carry Charlotte’s legacy forward.

Micah Stockwell-Goering, who received the award in 2016, said: “To think this could be possible because someone couldn’t have an opportunity to pursue this dream … I can’t say that I didn’t cry.”

Charlotte Helen Bacon Selah Scholarship

This special annual award pays for a bereaved couple grieving the loss of their own child to attend a healing retreat held by the Miss Foundation.

  • A film for you to watch: JoAnn hopes this beautiful video by the Charlotte Helen Bacon Foundation will touch and resonate with parents and families who are grieving a child