Tillie was the name of the Border Collie mix in Berea, KY whose self-assigned job was to lead visitors up Indian Fort Mountain to one of its many scenic overlooks. It was estimated that she made this hike as many as 10 times a day, leading a new group of hikers up as soon as she had safely escorted the last group back down. Her innate sweetness and complete dedication to her “job” quickly won over the hearts of many. In June, it was announced that Tillie had inoperable bladder cancer.
Tillie was one of the most amazing souls that I have ever known. She was so committed to her “job” as the unofficial good will ambassador and trail guide to the mountain that even as her body was failing her, she still insisted on walking to work. Watching her slip under the side fence of her yard to begin the long walk through the parking lot to her greeting post and seeing how very slow and arthritic her gait had become, yet seeing the steadfast determination of “I am going to make it,” written on her face, will forever be etched in my heart.
I was lucky enough to get in 2 more hikes with Tillie in June. At that time, Tillie was still capable of hiking as long as one went slow enough and made sure that she took enough rest and water breaks (no problem, girl -- you used to slow down for me). We were in the process of hiking up to one of the pinnacles, when I noticed that Tillie was dragging and in need of another rest break. I thought that if I could just make the step up over a steep rock section, we would be in a good place to take one.
This would be a good place to tell you that I have some physical limitations from a severe ankle fracture, years ago. As I went to make the step up, I had a flare of severe nerve pain in my toes and was forced to rock back to starting position. This happened a second time, however this time, when I tried to return to my starting position, I began to lose my balance backwards. In a flash, Tillie was behind me using her sweet but tired body to “push” me forwards by leaning in towards my legs with the side of her torso. My heart melted with love for her. The thought that she would use the last few drops of energy she had to save me, overwhelmed me.
We took our rest break and then continued until we reached the pinnacle, where we had a picnic. Tillie soon fell asleep in the warm sun as I massaged her tired body. When she woke up, we began our descent. While Tillie was tired, she was as nimble-footed as ever and was able to take the lead on the descent. With my mild disability, going downhill is more difficult for me than going uphill. Tillie seemed to understand this and she continued to look out for me on our return trip. I noticed that every time she made it down a more difficult and steep passage that she would stop, pick up her ears, and listen for my pole strikes. Only after she heard them and knew that I had made it down too, did her ears lower back down and she continue on. If it took a little longer than she thought it should to hear my pole strikes, she would turn around with a worried look on her face like, “are you alright?” In this fashion, we made our way back down the mountain.
That hike only served to deepen the amount of love and respect that I already held for my good friend, Tillie. It also made it even harder to say goodbye to her. Goodness like hers does not come around that often. Sadly, Tillie passed away on July 23, 2013.
Shortly after Tillie’s death, I volunteered to lead the fund raising campaign for a commemorative plaque and tree to be placed at Indian Fort Mountain to honor her 10 years of service there. Indian Fort Mountain is owned by Berea College. The college’s memorial policies allow for this in exchange for a $2,500 gift to their campus beautification fund. Tillie had thousands of friends and fans across the country. I know that I am not alone in wanting to see her honored so that her legacy will continue long after all those who knew her are gone. To donate:
--Make check payable to: Tillie Memorial Fund
--Mail check to: Fifth Third Bank
3060 Harrodsburg Rd.
Lexington, KY 40513