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"Tales Of Tillie" captures the unique bond between a Tallahassee man and the retired racing dog who adopted him

A man in a vest stands with a dog on a dirt road, holding dog treats. Sun rises behind them
John and Tillie enjoy a stroll together: a sunrise with treats.

The remarkable bond between a Tallahassee man and a retired racing dog is the subject of the book "Tales of Tillie." Sales of the volume, which contains photos, wisdom, and witticisms, help benefit Tallahassee Memorial Hospital's Animal Therapy Program.

John Williams is a Tallahassee lawyer who's been plying his trade in the Capital City a bit longer than many of his professional colleagues.

"I've been practicing law in Tallahassee since 1980, so a little over 40 years I guess. I've been here for a while," he said with a grin.

It was never really his intention to own a dog. And to this day, technically, he still doesn't—even though a former racing greyhound named Tillie has become his constant companion.

John Williams and Tillie share a gentle moment in Williams' Tallahassee law office
Tom Flanigan
Williams and Tillie share a gentle moment in Williams' Tallahassee law office.

"She belongs to Perry Henry. And when I first met Perry, she was trying to go to an appointment in town and she didn't have time to take her dog because she was living down in Shell Point and she needed to get there and back. So I asked her, 'Does the dog bite?' and she said 'No.' So I said, 'I'll take care of your dog. I love dogs.'"

Henry's dog had been among the racing greyhounds at the now-defunct Jefferson County Kennel Club in Monticello. The dog, due to her small size and inconsistent track record, was facing possible euthanasia. So Henry adopted her through a greyhound rescue group. Things changed during John Williams' initial encounter with the animal.

"I think from the first time I met her, Tillie decided we weren't going to be apart very much. So that's been about 11 years now."

And almost every early morning during those 11 years, weather permitting, Tillie and her chosen human companion John Williams, take a stroll along the shores of Lake Jackson just north of Tallahassee.

"There's a certain energetic feeling that's out there. And you're with Tillie and, although there are alligators and snakes there, Tillie knows where they are—I don't—so I feel very safe. And between them, there's a certain sense of energy and calmness. Like a moving meditation."

After walking, Tillie and Williams typically retire to his small downtown law office right across Virginia Street from the Hotel Duval.

"Once she runs in the morning—she has to run—but after that, the rest of the day she's content to be a couch potato basically. You can see where she is. She's very calm and she has a real sense of people. You see her in a group of people and someone is hurting for some reason, she'll be around and then go sit in front of them."

If Tillie's extreme empathic abilities sound like those of a highly-trained therapy animal, Stephanie Perkins, who heads Tallahassee Memorial's Animal Therapy Program, said you wouldn't be wrong.

"She is. She's just freelancing. Tillie isn't an official therapy animal, but she's doing this fantastic work with John, with his friend who's his neighbor, people that she sees at his office. In all that time, people connect, if only for a brief moment."

Williams tried to explain what he believes sets Tillie apart from most other animals.

"Well, she has a huge heart. That's the big thing that I think comes across and we'd like everyone to know about it locally ... people in the state and nationally to know about it. How she presents herself and the unconditional love she represents."

To share Tillie's exploits, Williams began documenting their morning excursions on social media with photos of Tillie and what she might be thinking about.

"I'd started doing things on Facebook fairly regularly. We'd have thoughts and I just put them out there. And I'd run into people in the grocery store and some would say, 'You didn't post this morning!'"

One of Williams' Facebook images of Tillie exploring the Lake Jackson shores during one of their morning strolls.
John Williams
One of Williams' Facebook images. Tillie explores the Lake Jackson shores during one of their morning strolls.

Williams' posts are now in the book "Tales of Tillie," which counts Stephanie Perkins among its fans.

"That book is fantastic! I look at it every day and read one page at a time. Soak it in and let it process. It's a fantastic book. John and Tillie are full of wisdom and joy and living every day in its moment."

Portions of the book's proceeds go to TMH's Animal Therapy Program.

Follow @flanigan_tom

Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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