There was a time not that long ago when Tara Prosser thought she had put Lily’s story behind her.
“After a year and a half, two years, I kept telling her, ‘It’s time to do something else great and amazing,’” said Prosser, the owner and handler for Lily, a search-and-rescue dog with the Newton County Rescue and Recovery Team in Joplin.
But thanks to an upcoming children’s book and a newspaper series that will spotlight the efforts of the nearly 6-year-old Weimaraner after the May 2011 tornado, Lily’s story is poised to reach an even larger audience.
Prosser and her husband, Jeff, the operations manager for the Newton County ambulance service, found Lily at Petland during an adoption event. It was love at first sight.
After a few weeks, they noticed how intelligent Lily was and started her in obedience classes. Both members of the rescue and recovery team, they thought that it would be a good idea to train her as a rescue dog.
In April 2011, Lily got sick.
“About a month before the tornado, she almost died,” Prosser said.
The Prossers took Lily to the veterinary hospital at Oklahoma State University. After a week, Lily stabilized and it wasn’t long before she began to seem like herself again.
The weekend of the tornado, the Prossers took her to a search-and-rescue training event in Arkansas. On their way home that Sunday, they learned that a tornado had touched down in Joplin.
“The next morning, we met up with the rescue team and worked for the next 14 days,” Tara Prosser said.
After the tornado, Prosser said Lily received some degree of notoriety because of her illness and rescue efforts. Last winter, St. Louis writer Carolyn Mueller was asked by her publisher at Reedy Press to consider writing a children’s book about Lily.
“It’s difficult subject matter to turn into a children’s book. The goal is to help kids deal with loss and tragedy, and know that bad things can happen in life, but everything can be OK.”
The book, she said, is expected to be published in February.
But Lily’s story about her tornado rescue efforts won’t stop between the pages of Mueller’s book.
The Missouri Press Association worked with the writer to adapt it into a newspaper series for its annual Reading Across Missouri project. Dawn Kitchell, educational services director for the Missouri Press Association and Foundation, said Lily’s story was adapted into an eight-part series that will be published in newspapers around the state and spotlighted in the classroom.
“One of the things we look for with Reading Across Missouri is to tie in history,” Kitchell said. “The Joplin tornado is part of our history now. Lily’s story combines a couple of great elements. There’s a dog, an event that children in our communities are familiar with and lessons to be learned from the story.
“There is a companion guide for teachers to use the story to its fullest potential.”
“I’m extremely emotional when it comes to her,” Prosser said about Lily. “Knowing that there will be a book to memorialize what she did, I think it’s great. I’m glad her story will be known to lots of kids.”
The first of the eight-week series featuring Lily is on page A4 of this week’s issue of the Houston Herald (Feb. 6). The story is part of the Newspaper In Education program at Houston schools.