BEREA, Ky. — For more than a decade, hikers of Kentucky’s Indian Fort Mountain were greeted by a very special guide. She would meet folks at the trailhead and accompany them throughout their hike, often making as many as 10 trips up and down the mountain each day.
"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.
Tillie, a 13-year-old border collie mix, died this week after a short illness, and the hundreds of hikers she guided took to social media to mourn her passing.
"Tillie of Indian Fort has left her tired, pain-filled old body behind," Tillie's human friends posted on her Facebook page Wednesday. "She was lying on cool green grass, surrounded by loving family and friends. Her passing was quiet and peaceful."
Ten years ago, Tillie found a home with Ron and Bhana Deaver, who live on the edge of the Berea College forest next to Indian Fort Theater, about 35 miles south of Lexington, Ky. That's when Tillie's career began as an unofficial guide dog.
Crystal Wylie, a reporter for the Richmond, Ky., Register, recalled a time when Tillie joined her and a friend on a hike to the top of the mountain's East Pinnacle. Wylie said it got dark and they lost track of the trail, so they decided to sleep on the mountain.
"When we awoke the next morning, Tillie was still there," Wylie wrote last month after word spread that Tillie was sick. "And from that moment, I knew Tillie was a very special dog."
In June, the Deavers announced Tillie had an invasive growth in the lining of her bladder. News of Tillie's condition spread fast, and hikers began hitting the trails to catch a glimpse of the famous dog. In the weeks following the announcement, Tillie continued to hike the trails with the help of a little pain medication.
People donated money to offset the dog's vet bills, and some fans are hoping to donate a statue or plaque to honor Tillie's legacy.
"Maybe we can hike again in another world, one day," one fan wrote on Tillie's Facebook page.