Last month, an inspirational spirit in the rescue dog community passed away with family and loved ones by her side. Tillie’s face had become a symbol of hope and survival for those in the war against dogfighting. Her mom, Heather Gutshall, posted a gorgeous and heartrending tribute to a life marred by the effects of abuse, yet so full of love, strength and forgiveness.
From the moment Heather, co-founder of Handsome Dan’s Rescue, laid eyes on the tan Pit Bull named Tillie, she felt an overwhelming connection to her. Tillie was one of 367 dogs rescued in August 2013 during the second largest US dog fighting raid in history. Heather traveled from her home in Rhode Island to volunteer her services at the temporary shelter set up by the Humane Society of the United States’ Dogfighting Rescue Coalition.
When Heather first saw Tillie, the elderly Pittie was laid out on a raised bed. She had golf-ball sized tumors visible along her chest and abdomen, embedded in her mammary glands. Struck by the dog’s gentle, wise disposition, Heather knew she wanted to bring Tillie back to RI as part of Handsome Dan’s Rescue. Her emotional Facebook tribute reads in part:
From the moment I laid eyes on her at the HSUS temporary shelter just three weeks after she was cut from her chain I knew she was going to be a life changer.
Tillie was thin, weak and suffering from heartworm disease and an infected uterus. A condition known as “chain broke legs” meant that Tillie’s front limbs were permanently bowed from years weighed down by heavy chains. She walked with a wobbly gait and endured chronic pain for the remainder of her life. Brave Tillie survived the risky surgery to remove her tumors and uterine infection. Despite the odds, biopsies revealed that she was cancer-free!
Tillie suffered greatly for the first many years of her life, but she forgave so easily. Every single day was Tillie’s best day ever. There are so many lessons wrapped up in that magical little brown dog – that 45 pound bundle of wobbly happiness.
In January of 2014, Tilly and 6 more of the liberated dogs were transported back to RI, thanks to funds raised by Handsome Dan’s Rescue and Jasmine House. Tillie settled in with her new loving family and kindred spirit brother, Handsome Dan. Heather fitted Tillie’s new pink collar with a tag that read “Tillie: #367 Survivor” and a string of faux pearls.
Tillie had less than 2 years of freedom and unconditional love with the Gutshalls, but she was able to touch so many hearts and promote awareness about dogfighting to millions in that short time. Heather’s beautiful Facebook message says it best:
She changed laws, and just as importantly, she changed minds. She worked outreach like nobody’s business and loved every minute of her freedom. Tillie accomplished more in her year and eight months of freedom than most of us will in a lifetime. She did exactly what she was put on this earth to do.
Below is a look at the dog with the indomitable spirit during her transition from abuse and neglect to love and inspiration. To learn more about Tillie and Handsome Dan, or to donate to Handsome Dan rescue, visit handsomedansrescue.org.
Featured Image via Handsome Dan Rescue