The Richmond Register

January 30, 2014

Lessons from Fido, Figo and Tillie

By Terri Johnson
Register Columnist

FRANKFORT — Many wonderful quotes are attributed to Abraham Lincoln. One of my favorites is, “In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.”

In recent months, two shining examples of that quote have been lingering in my mind. Both were Kentucky dogs.

During the last week of 2013, the Today show promoted an online contest for the best animal photo of 2013.

An image of Figo, a city police dog in Bardstown won by a landslide. Figo was the partner of Jason Ellis, a Bardstown police officer who was tragically murdered in the line of duty last year.  

The image showed Figo paying his respects by placing a paw on the coffin of officer Ellis at the burial ceremony. Incredibly moving, the photo captured the bond police officers have with their dogs (and horses).

Law enforcement animals are sworn officers and are incredibly important members of their local teams. The photo of Figo poignantly expressed his own loss and certainly demonstrates (in case there are any doubters), that animals do have emotions.

Officer Ellis made the ultimate sacrifice and leaves behind a beautiful young family.  Emergency responders, including the four-legged ones, are unsung heroes. Grateful community members established a fund to help the Ellis family care for Figo, now retired, for the rest of his life.

The second dog was Tillie, the internationally famous border collie mix who was the unofficial guide dog for Berea’s Indian Fort Mountains, also known as the Pinnacles.

I regret that I never met Tillie who is said to have loved everyone and everything she met (except squirrels).

For 10 years, she accompanied hikers up the Indian Fort Mountains. She would slip out of her yard and eventually guided thousands of hikers up the trails, often making many trips each day. Her owners, who live close to the base of the Pinnacles, put a tag on her collar that read, “My name is Tillie. I am not a stray. I live next door. Let’s go for a hike.”

Over the years, there have been lots of stories about Tillie’s commitment to her job. She assisted children and weaker hikers, she assisted people that got sick and she spent the night on the mountain with lost hikers.

The rewards for Tillie were no doubt numerous. She got lots of treats and attended hundreds of mountain-top picnics. But probably her best reward was that she found a great purpose in her life.

In the summer of last year, Tillie’s owners announced that she had been diagnosed with an inoperable cancer.  She died July 23 at the age of 13. Hundreds of people paid their respects on Facebook and elsewhere.

Like Figo, Tillie was the subject of local, national and international media attention. There’s also a fund in her memory. The Tillie Memorial Fund will be used to build a commemorative plaque and plant a tree in Tillie’s memory on the mountain.

Back to Abraham Lincoln. He loved dogs. He had several in his life including his favorite dog, Fido, which he had in Springfield, Ill., but did not take with him to the White House.

Lincoln had a regal photo portrait done of Fido that you can easily find online. Yes, among his many contributions, Abe Lincoln coined the famous dog name “Fido” which in Latin means faithful. The name now serves as a moniker for dogs in general.

“Fido” is a fitting description for both Figo and Tillie. They were faithful, and the “life in their years” made a difference for thousands of people.

Remarkable dogs like Fido, Figo and Tillie get a lot of attention, but many dogs have a way of leaving a legacy without ever speaking a word. I believe that all dogs come into this world just wanting to love and be loved, and that all dogs are innately good (including Pit Bulls and Rottweilers).

There are lessons to learn about living from every Fido out there. Loyalty, faithfulness, unconditional caring and trying hard at what we do would probably make us all more successful.

And after all, a warm bed, enough to eat, people to love, a chance to roam a little and an occasional treat are all we really need.

There are Facebook pages for both Figo (Friends of Figo) and Tillie (Tillie of Indian Fort).

© Terri Johnson 2013

Richmond native Terri Johnson is marketing and communications professional and a free-lance writer in central Kentucky.