Milly Kukuczka grew up with her beloved dog Bella. So when the border collie mix died around Christmas time last year, the 9-year-old Colorado girl was heartbroken.
This year, in honor of Bella, Milly wanted only one thing: When her parents asked her for a Christmas list, she gave them a flyer that she made for a pet drive. She wanted to collect toys for shelter pets as a tribute to her late pup.
"It's been her really hard on her over the last year," Milly's mom, Ashley Kukuczka, said "So, it's really cool to see it all come together."
Milly said that she decided to do the pet drive "so all pets could have a toy for Christmas. "And in memory of my dog, Bella," she added.
'She feels for animals just as much as humans'
The family began collecting toys from friends and family and the Milly's pet drive soon caught the attention of the local CBS outlet.
Now, countless people are helping Milly bring joy to shelter dogs. So far, Milly said she's gotten somewhere between 50 to 100 donations. Her mom said the family has adopted shelter animals before and when Milly wanted to do this, they reached out to The Dumb Friends League, where they'd adopted the family cats, to see if they could just go down and see the animals.
"She wanted to make sure that every dog that didn't have a home on Christmas has a toy to open if they didn't have a family to be with, because that makes her really sad. She feels for animals just as much as humans," Ashley said about her daughter.
A strong bond
The Kukuczka family adopted Bella a short while before Milly was born.
"We've been through everything with her and then when Millie was born, Bella kind of just protected her. They were always side by side doing everything together. Everything she did, she wanted to do with Bella – go down the slide at the playground, go for walks, she has always been right by our side," Ashley said.
Sadly, Bella was diagnosed with cancer. A year before she passed, the beloved dog also ended up with an eye infection. The family at the time thought it was the cancer spreading.
"We kind of went through the grieving process a year ago and it was just something in her eyes. She ended up losing her eyes. It's like we grieved her loss once and we had a whole other year of life with her and I think that's what really brought Milly close to Bella in that last year – knowing that she might lose her," the mother said.
Although the young girl wishes to have Bella back, she's channeled her love for the dog into helping others.
"She just wanted the memory of Bella to be known. Every stuffed animal that she gets that looks like Bella, she names it Bella. Everywhere we go she looks for a magnet that looks like Bella or an ornament that looks like Bella. She really wants her memory to live on," Kukuczka said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Colorado 9-year-old organizes pet drive to honor dog who died