Lily, a Weimaraner who rose to fame as a search-and-rescue dog after the 2011 tornado in Joplin, has died at the age of 10.
"Our whole family is just devastated," said Lily's owner, Tara Prosser. "There will never be another Lily. But we will get through this, and we absolutely treasure the 10 years we had with her."
Lily was adopted by the Prossers years ago, but her trials began at an early age. When she was about 3 years old, she fell sick, with her platelets dropping and bleeding in her belly. Veterinarians were stumped, and Lily was eventually diagnosed with Addison's disease, which affected her adrenal system.
Shortly thereafter, she stumbled into what would become her calling — search-and-rescue efforts. Prosser had initially brought Lily along, just in case she got sick again, to a training weekend in Arkansas with the family's other dog, but Lily begged to be allowed to join in the training.
"She just went kind of crazy; she wanted to be out in training," Prosser said. "I kind of reluctantly let her go, and it was like nothing had ever happened to her at all."
Lily's destiny was about to be solidified, for on the family's way home from the training session, an EF-5 tornado struck Joplin, killing 161 and injuring thousands. Lily went right to work in search-and-rescue efforts.
"She worked and worked and worked," Prosser said. "We worked for seven straight days after the tornado. I found a nail in her foot one day, and she had never even let me know that something happened.
"She was mainly a human remains detective dog. ... She's a life-saver and has provided closure for I don't know how many families that were looking for their deceased loved ones. She was exceptionally good at locating those people," she said.
About three years after the tornado, Lily officially retired from the employ of Newton County, for which she had done search-and-rescue work. It was getting difficult for her, and it was taking her longer to recover from jobs, so she retreated and became a "lady of leisure," Prosser said.
In her retirement, Lily helped teach some obedience classes for Main Street Pet Care. She also starred in her own children's book, "Lily: A True Story of Courage and the Joplin Tornado," and toured elementary schools to help promote the book after its 2014 release.
"She spent her last few years as a celebrity, basically," Prosser said.
The book's author, Carolyn Mueller, offered condolences to the Prosser family on Facebook and said that Lily had lived a courageous life.
"She was always ready to help those in need, and she was always there for her mom, Tara Prosser, as a member of the Prosser family," Mueller said. "Here's to sweet Lily. ...She will always be remembered and missed."
Prosser said Lily fell ill right after Thanksgiving. Her veterinarian, Ben Leavens of Main Street Pet Care, said Lily had a large mass in her stomach and in her lung, and he later said he feared it had spread to her brain as well. On Monday, the Prossers made the difficult decision to help Lily cross the Rainbow Bridge.
If Lily left any kind of legacy behind, it's one of persistence and love, Prosser said.
"Whatever you do, do it with all of your might," she said. "That was what she did with anything, whether it was obedience class, or search and rescue, or taking naps. She did it with everything she had."