BEREA — One of my first memories on the Indian Fort Mountain trails was as a young Girl Scout.
My sweet mother, who had no business leading a group of girls to the East or West Pinnacle, got us lost in the Berea College Forest on the way back down.
I recalled that childhood memory years later during college as I made my way back up the trails behind the sure-footed paws of a scruffy collie mix named Tillie. This dog would have been a big help to my mom, I thought.
That night, Tillie led my friend and me to the top of the East Pinnacle where we enjoyed a picnic and watched the sun sink lower in the sky. Before we knew it, it was too dark to see the trail and we made the decision to sleep under the stars (However, camping is not allowed on the Pinnacles. We were being young and stupid; so don’t do that).
When we awoke the next morning, Tillie was still there. And from that moment, I knew Tillie was a very special dog.
Ten years ago, Tillie found a home with Ron and Bhana Deaver, who reside on the edge of the forest. Tillie has been the unofficial Pinnacle guide dog ever since.
“My name is Tillie. I am not a stray. I live next door. Let’s go for a hike,” the tag on her collar said.
On June 6, the following was posted to Tillie's Facebook page: “Dear human friends. The news is not good news. Dr. Walls determined that the growth is too invasive to be removed, encompasses too much of the lining of the bladder.”
The status update was shared by Tillie’s 1,086 Facebook followers more than 125 times and received 80 comments from well-wishers. People also anonymously donated funds to offset the cost of the 13-year-old’s vet bills.
News of Tillie’s ailing condition spread fast and hikers have been hitting the trails to catch a glimpse of the famous dog.
On Saturday, Tillie was “interviewed” by a Lexington television news station for the story, “People make pilgrimage for one last hike with a beloved Berea dog.”
With the help of a little pain medication, hikers reported that Tillie was dutifully doing her “job” Saturday and was enjoying some snacks and love pats from visitors on the East Pinnacle.
I headed up the trail Tuesday with hopes of catching Tillie on that Pinnacle. My partner Jimmy hauled my heavy camera and lens in a backpack (bless him) and I was prepared for a full-on photo shoot of Tillie with a breathtaking view as my backdrop.
We checked the various ledges after we got to the top, but there was no sign of Tillie. Although a trip to the Pinnacles is always an amazing experience, I was disappointed that I would not get one last hike with my little furry friend.
I took this opportunity to snap some photos of the green-covered hills and the cotton candy clouds. I turn around to leave and here comes Tillie barreling down the trail.
She stopped in the middle of the ledge and plopped down right in front of me. She acted as if she was just running a few minutes late for her photo shoot.
It was a serendipitous moment.
Behind her was a group of teenagers she had met in the parking lot.
Elise Everitt, 18, a recent graduate of Middle College at Eastern Kentucky University, had heard about Tillie on the TV news and wanted to see her for herself, she said.
She had hiked the Pinnacles twice before, she said, but never with Tillie.
“We thought we would just hike, but having Tillie is an added bonus,” Elise said.
Her fellow Middle College graduate Eva Scott, 18, said she hiked with Tillie years ago when her family was considering moving to Berea.
Back then, she said, Tillie walked in front of them up the trail. But Tuesday, the group had to stop and wait for Tillie to catch up a few times, Eva said.
When the group decided to leave, the faithful dog rested for a few more moments but then jumped up and followed the group down the trail.
Jimmy and I had given her pretzels and ice, but apparently our food bribe wasn’t good enough.
“She stays loyal to whatever group she starts out with. I never heard of her switching to someone else in mid-hike,” Bhana said in a November 2011 article written by Tom Chase for the “Bereapedia,” the Berea College Encyclopedia.
“She sees that as her job,” Ron told Chase. “She’s totally dedicated to Indian Fort hiking … She lives with us, but she’s very much her own dog.”
Bhana estimated that Tillie hiked the mountain as often as ten times a day. But these days, the old collie comes home very tired, she said.
But, as long as her pain is manageable, Bhana said Tillie will be out on the trails doing what she loves during what time she has left.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.
Love for Tillie
Since news broke of Tillie’s illness, well-wishes have been pouring in on Facebook:
Julia Phillips - “I haven't met you Tillie but love you and your giving heart! You are a blessing even to those who haven't met you, so I can only imagine how your trail climbers feel about their buddy:) Thanks for being you!!”
Tonya Purdy - “Thank you, Tillie, for all of the wonderful times at the Pinnacles. May your spirit roam free in the mountains, and may comfort come to your dearest human friends.”
Megan Ward - “This brings tears to my eyes as I come home to read this. Tillie, I had a feeling that told me to stop at Indian Fort theatre to look for you tonight just to say hello. Glad to her that you are resting and hope to see you soon lady.”
Martha Riley - “So sorry, Tillie and family. We've always enjoyed your joyful spirit and love for hiking. We always look for you when we go to the Fort and will miss you.”
Sarah Blue Maupin - “In the past few weeks I have been blessed to gain a bond with Tillie at the clinic. It's unlike the friendship I've known with her for years on my hikes, but I'm happy to say that she's the same, sweet, tail wagging soul when she's sick at the Dr's office. She is one of a kind and a kindred spirit that we all know and love. I plan to make a special trip to her neck of the woods soon.”
Jackie Barclay - “Tillie was right by my son's side as he was getting ready to take an ugly fall on a hike and kept him from doing so. She is what kept us from turning around and leaving. i will never forget her for that. much love tilly!”
Slabtown Moore - “Tillie, we have hiked the Pinnacles many times together. You are an intrinsic part of Indian Fort and your loving, loyal soul will always be the keeper of its gate.”
Larry Bolaski - “Every time i go to Kentucky and go on a hike i will always think of you. I knew the minute that we got out of the car that you would leave an everlasting memory in our hearts, the next time i come to KY in the fall, I will come and see you, God willing you will still be here to greet us. It was my pleasure to have gone on a hike with you.”
Meredith Cornelison Reed - “My son loved hiking with Tillie so much that when we got a dog of our own he named her Tilly!”
Patti Jo Durbin “- Aww. She is such a sweet dog. We look forward to seeing her on the trails. The last time We were there she was hiking with an older couple. Every time they'd stop and rest she would too. It was like she was watching over them.”
Diane Gilliam - “Tillie picked us out of the crowd and hiked to the East Pinnacle with us one day. She led all the way but stopped wherever we stopped. She is a great guide and seems to watch over her people. She also seems to understand the best places for photos. It'll never be the same without her. I've got some great pics of her on the east pinnacle but don't know how to post them to your wall.”
Jennifer Koach - “My first hike to Indian Fort Mountain was in March of this year. When googling the site for directions, I found stories about Tillie. I adore animals, and so I had my fingers crossed I would see her. I told my companions, and they were skeptical about the story. When we got to the top, there she was, chilling underneath a hammock. When we arrived, she came up to greet us. We spent a few minutes together enjoying the view, and gave her some water. Then she spotted a hiker with beef jerky, and she was off on her next adventure. A month later I brought a friend there just so she could meet Tillie, and we found her at the top of East Pinnacle, watching over a group of folks repelling down the side. I Tillie.”
Amy Stevens Bingham - “Hiking there will not be the same for our family without Tillie!”
Danielle Dabkowski - “My husband and I met her when we were at school at Eastern in 2005-2008. We were looking for good places to hike. She came with us on literally every hike! She always went up and down the mountain with us, accepted water we had brought for our own dog, and was a great guide. This past Christmas, we went for a hike and she came with us to West Pinnacle. She is such a wonderful dog. We were saddened to hear of her illness, but she has given so many good memories to so many people. Her legacy will live on.”
Leslie D. Choate - “Tillie was around every time I went hiking there. Last summer a friend and I went around five in the morning to catch the sunrise and beat the heat of the day. Tillie came out and kept us company all the way to the Pinnacle and escorted us back down again a few hours later.”
To read more about Tillie the “Indian Fort Dog” visit bereapedia.wikispaces.com and type “Tillie” in the search bar.