OLYMPIA – While it’s often said a dog is man’s best friend, in some cases a dog is also a dog’s best friend.
The latter can be so noteworthy that even a governor takes notice.
That was the case with Tillie, an Irish setter-spaniel mix, when her friend Phoebe, a Basset hound, wandered away from their Vashon Island home last month. While Tillie usually stays close to home, owner BJ Duft says, Phoebe follows her nose, which is just a few inches off the ground, anywhere it will take her.
In September it took her and Tillie about two miles away, to a wooded area where Phoebe eventually got into an old cistern and couldn’t get out. Tillie stayed near by, leaving only occasionally for attempts to attract the attention of a nearby homeowner by barking and then running back into the woods. Tillie apparently is a fan of old Lassie shows in which the collie tries to alert clueless humans that Timmy is in the well, but had less success.
Meanwhile, Duft was searching for his two missing dogs and notified Vashon Island Pet Protectors. The group sent out a “be on the lookout” alert with the two dogs’ description. The homeowner noticed that the strange dog that kept showing up and barking matched one of the descriptions, and called.
Word got to Duft, who made his way to the cistern, where Tillie was standing guard, refusing to leave until he hauled Phoebe out. How long was she in there? Duft doesn’t know, but he suspects it was at least five days.
The story made the local newspaper, a Seattle television station and eventually the ABC network news, because, let’s face it, everyone loves a good dog story. That includes Gov. Jay Inslee, who on Thursday presented Tillie with the Washingtonian of the Day award, which comes with a certificate and a medal that carries an iconic apple.
This is the first time the award – an honor developed by Inslee and is presented irregularly despite its name – has ever gone to a dog.
“I think we’ve been waiting over a century for an act of such courage,” Inslee said, petting Phoebe as Duft attached the award to Tillie. “We’re pretty excited to have fun with it.”
Duft runs a catering business, Herbal Feast, in Seattle. When the governor’s office called to invite him and the dogs to come to Olympia for the award, he was out and his staff at first thought it was a joke. Once he realized they were serious, he said he was “really tickled” the dogs would be honored. They got a special trip to the groomer, just for the event, then sat calmly as reporters asked Duft to repeat the story several times as cameras clicked and flashed.
He wants to share the award with all the people on Vashon that helped search for the dogs, and said he’s still amazed that such a strong bond can form between two animals.
Tillie and Phoebe haven’t quite ended their 15 minutes of fame, he added. A Japanese television station is arranging a session for them with someone who “talks” to dogs. Duft said he may get a chance to ask them what they were doing for the week they were missing.
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