“Family Guy” animated series kills off beloved canine character

Sunday night was heartbreaking for fans of the long-running Fox television network’s animated series, Family Guy. Brian, the Griffin family’s alcohol-loving, novel-writing, cynical talking white dog, died after being hit by a car.

Stewie is comforted by Vinny, a dog who was adopted after Brian was killed in the “Life of Brian” episode.

In the aftermath of the accident, the Griffin family, including dad Peter, mom Lois, and kids Chris, Meg, and baby Stewie, are shown surrounding their badly-battered best friend for one last goodbye.

“Damnit Brian, you can’t die,” Stewie begs his dying friend tearfully. “We were going to do so many things together. We were going to become windsurfers. I was going to be a little better than you but we were both going to be good!”

But perhaps it was Brian’s final words that really hit home for viewers. Brian opens his eyes just long enough to tell his family what really all pet owners wish their dogs could say to them in those final moments.

“You’ve given me a wonderful life,” Brian tells his family. “I love you all.”

Everyone’s favorite animated New England family didn’t have to wait long before meeting their next furry friend. The Griffins adopt a new dog, Vinny — voiced by Sopranos actor Tony Sirico — soon after losing Brian.

But fans haven’t been able to move on so easily.

Sure, Brian was a fictional dog, and an animated one at that, but his death in Sunday’s “Life of Brian” episode is causing quite the stir.

Many fans are criticizing the Family Guy team, including producer Steve Callaghan, who tells E! News the idea to kill Brian off “got pitched in the writer’s room and it sort of caught fire,” explaining they all thought “it could be a fun way to shake things up.”

“It seemed more in the realm of reality that a dog would get hit by a car, than if one of the kids died,” Callaghan adds. “As much as we love Brian, and as much as everyone loves their pets, we felt it would be more traumatic to lose one of the kids, rather than the family pet.”

But many fans don’t agree, demanding that Family Guy bring Brian back — or risk losing their loyal viewers. The show’s decision to kill fan favorite Brian has prompted widespread protests on the web, including a Change.org petition started by Aaron Thompson, a diehard Family Guy fan from Tuscaloosa, Ala.

“The writers of Family Guy didn’t just kill of one of their creations, they killed off the dog who has lived in our homes for the last 15 years!” Thompson writes. “They killed the dog we all have come to love. They killed America’s dog!”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Thompson’s petition has amassed more than 40,000 signatures.

Many critics speculate this isn’t the last fans have seen from Brian, including the New York Times Dave Itzkoff.

“Everyone will cover Family Guy just as fervently when the ‘dead character’ comes back in a week or two, right?” Itzkoff tweeted Monday.

Even Family Guy Producer Callaghan is adding some fuel to the speculation fire.

“Our fans are smart enough and have been loyal to our show for long enough, to know that they can trust us,” he explains. “We always make choices that work to the greatest benefit of the series.”

Whether that means the dearly departed Brian is set for resurrection remains to be seen.

Sources: ABC News, E! News, Change.org