Champion German shorthaired pointer Ty helped find and save people who were missing or hurt on both land and water during his eight-year career as a search and rescue dog, including in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
He once risked his life to save a 9-year-old Boy Scout from an unstable cavern along the Appalachian Trail in northern Pennsylvania. That was back when he still lived in York Township with his human partner and owner, Tracey Petron Mirgon.
But on April 25, it fell to Mirgon to rescue Ty from the pain that plagued his arthritis-ridden spine, caused by a sacral injury he suffered when a driver crashed into Mirgon's vehicle as she and Ty were returning from a rescue assignment in Tennessee. Ty was about 8 at the time of the crash.
"Over the years the sacral joint had made his rear weak," Mirgon said, and she retired him from search and rescue — and from the show ring — in 2013.
In his last three weeks, veterinarians determined arthritis had crept up his spine and, because he pushed himself so hard, led to eight ruptured, leaking discs.
His pain could no longer be controlled, and Mirgon said she had promised Ty she would not let him suffer. So she drove him to a place he liked in the woods near their home in Cabot, Ark., where Mirgon and Ty moved in 2012.
No more pain: Ty's vet met them there, and Mirgon held her partner in her arms.
"I told him he would never feel any more pain ever again," Mirgon said. "He gave me kisses and talked to me — he was very vocal. And he went very peacefully. ... Half of my heart left with that dog."
Ty, whose real name was Champion Von Ruann's Flecken Typhoon, was 12 years old. Mirgon owns a number of dogs, including Ty's offspring, but is convinced she'll never share that kind of bond with another dog.
"He was my best friend," she said. "We did everything together."
A few days later, Mirgon learned just how much Ty meant to their Arkansas community.
Hero's funeral: The South Bend (Ark.) Fire Department drove emergency vehicles to Mirgon's home and picked up Ty's ashes, which were in an urn placed inside his and Mirgon's specially modified K-9 rescue kayak. Firefighters draped an American flag over the kayak and placed it atop a fire truck, Mirgon said.
Two firefighters rode atop the truck with the kayak as other equipment followed the fire truck to First United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, Ark., she said.
During the service, a bagpiper played and an Army honor guard from nearby Camp Robinson folded the flag that covered Ty's dark-green Old Town kayak before presenting it to Mirgon.
"Everyone in the church was crying," she said. "Even the firemen. ... Everybody who met Ty told me he stole a piece of their heart."
Roughly 50 rescues: Ty and Mirgon went out on about 50 land and water rescues together over the years in five states, sometimes looking for living victims, sometimes for cadavers, she said.
"He always wanted to be on duty. He loved it," she said. "I love helping people, so it was as much a joy for me as it was for Ty."
The partners spent three months in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. Ty pulled bodies from the water and up over the bow of the kayak, or took ropes to people so they could be pulled to safety.
"I know that we helped at least 30 people who were living, but I can't tell you how many we pulled out who were deceased," Mirgon said. "There were so many. It was a nightmare there."
Saved Boy Scout: Mirgon, 50, said Ty's most memorable rescue was of the 9-year-old Boy Scout who broke his leg when he fell into a cavern along the Appalachian Trail. The soil in the cavern kept giving way, preventing rescuers from getting to him, she said.
"Ty was so beside himself," Mirgon recalled. "It was the first time he didn't listen to my command," which was to stay put.
He went down into the cavern, delivered a rope to the Scout, then grabbed the boy's belt and hauled him up the cavern until it was safe enough for rescuers to take over, she said.
"Ty really did something special," Mirgon said. "We were just in awe."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org.