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Mr. January 2021 - Tillman
A dog takes the lead

hen walking a dog, usually the lead is attached to both the dog and a human. A ten-year-old Golden Retriever in Oriental does it differently.

Tillman, January  Pet of the Month

“At some point in a walk,” David White – Tillman’s human – says, “Tillman will often give a gentle look implying he would like to take charge of the leash.” David offers it up and Tillman gingerly takes the coiled lead in his mouth. He does not stray from David’s side for the whole of the walk.

“We didn’t teach him that,” says Jean White – Tillman’s other human. “Retrievers love to hold something in their mouth – gently.”

For his solo lead performance, Tillman is Mister January, Pet Of The Month.

Tillman, January  Pet of the Month
Tillman holds his leash while on a walk with his human, David White.
Tillman, January  Pet of the Month
Tillman is in control.

Jean and David met while working at IBM and share a love of big dogs, particularly Golden Retrievers. They adopted their first two Golden Retrievers in the early 80s: Chesapeake and Cambridge. Beaufort and Harker followed, also Golden Retrievers (and also named after nautical locations). Tillman’s name is a different story.

Tillman, January  Pet of the Month
Memorials to departed four-legged family members.

The White’s son Hayes chose to name the dog for Patrick Tillman, an NFL player who became an Army Ranger after the attack on September 11, dying as a result of friendly fire.

Tillman riding shotgun.xxxx
Now that’s riding shotgun. Tillman enjoys sitting between the Whites on their road trips. To make it more comfortable for him, Jean and David got Tillman a seat extender.

Though retrievers usually have no problem being in the water, Tillman again does things a little differently. While he will ride in a boat, Tillman is no fan of the water. Should a thrown ball make its way into the creek behind the White’s home, Tillman stops on the bank, leaving the retrieving to a human.

On one occasion David and Jean had their Caliber 35 sailboat docked in New Bern when the loud sounds of a fireworks show at Tryon Palace terrified Tillman. He pulled his leash from David, making a mad dash from shore down the dock to the boat. When the Whites had left for a walk on shore, David had taken up the ramp. Undeterred, Tillman leapt for the deck.

Tillman, January  Pet of the Month
Tillman believes boats are to keep water out and dogs in. (Jean White photo)

He missed. David and another boater helped retrieve the retriever from his unintended night swim in the Trent River. 

In a separate incident, Tillman jumped from their Boston Whaler in Whittaker Creek West.  “When we looked down,” David said, “all we saw was his tail sticking up out of the water.  Instead of swimming, he was walking in the shallow water with his feet on the bottom.” 

Tillman, January  Pet of the Month
Where there is a David, there is a Tillman.

Fireworks continue to upset Tillman. To help with his fear, the Whites remain at home with the large retriever on the noisier holidays, spending New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July in his company.

Tillman returns the attention and care, keeping close to David when he works from home. “Whenever I am sitting at my desk and on the computer,” he says, “Tillman sits with me the entire time I work.”

Tillman, January  Pet of the Month
Don’t mind if I do…

As any bonded pack does, Tillman sleeps with Jean and David. Or he used to. His advancement in years, arthritis, and the second of two ACL surgeries early in 2020 made it difficult for Tillman to jump down from the bed. They tried a ramp, but it was a precarious situation for Tillman. David resolved the issue by buying Tillman his own mattress and placing it by their bed.

It seemed that would have solved it. But Tillman, used to sleeping by David, was distraught. He wanted to sleep by his human. Plaintive whining ensued along with attempts to jump up on the bed. Fearing Tillman would further damage his shoulder – and to get a better night’s sleep – David decided to sleep with Tillman on the floor. A solution that has worked. As long as David doesn’t leave.

Tillman, January  Pet of the Month
Tillman is calm with his human.

While he openly admits the above, David White declined to provide photographic evidence of his sleeping arrangements.

Though Jean says David is definitely Tillman’s person, the retriever often seeks the attention of other humans. “Whenever we have taken Tillman to dog parks, we saw other dogs primarily interacting with other dogs. Tillman always made his way to interact with dog owners instead.”

Tillman, January  Pet of the Month
Tillman, and visiting canine Nattie, would both like a moment of David’s time. (Jean White photo)

On one visit to Village Hardware, Tillman appointed himself as head caretaker and emotional support for Greg Ruzicka. Greg was showing Jean how to attach a new electrical plug to an existing cord when his screwdriver slipped and pierced his thumb. Jean and Greg jumped in her car, heading to Nova Urgent Care for help. Greg spent the ride petting Tillman, to help keep himself calm. Tillman did his part by licking Greg.

Greg credits Tillman for making the experience more bearable.

Tillman, January  Pet of the Month
Tillman at rest.

Tillman is more than just a dog. “He is a beloved member of our family,” says Jean, “caring deeply for both of us and our two sons, Hayes and Landon.” Tillman’s love, compassion, and quiet confidence are why he’s the Pet of the Month.

Celebrity Most Resembles: Owen Wilson
Likes: To take the lead
Loves: Humans, especially David White
Dislikes: fireworks, unexpected swims
Favorite Quote: “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.” – Booker T. Washington

photos and story by Ben Casey

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