Miss Willie was born into a world that stretched only as far as her chain allowed.
There wasn't a moment in the dog's life that she didn't feel its weight, reminding her that home was just a few square feet of trampled dirt outside a property in Halifax County, North Carolina.
Her owner didn't think she needed to be inside. Nor would he entertain the idea of giving Miss Willie away — despite the pleas from a field team of PETA members who visited her as often as they could, bearing food, toys and much-needed water bowl refills.
And Miss Willie greeted them with such tail-swishing enthusiasm, she ran in as wide a circle as her chain would allow.
As time wore on, Miss Willie would rise a little slower to greet visitors. At one point, she was coughing uncontrollably and could no longer stand.
After 12 years in that same patch of dirt, Miss Willie was dying.
Only then did her owner finally agree to let her off the chain — and spend her final days with the people who had become her only friends, namely Jes Cochran, the team member who had forged a special bond with the dog.
Miss Willie's first car ride was to an emergency clinic.
Once there, the veterinarian predicted the dog — who suffered from end-stage heartworm disease, lung tumors, and no less than two tick-borne diseases — wouldn't last the night.
But the next day, after the fluid had been drained from her lungs, this old dog learned a new trick: how to hope again.
While Miss Willie's health issues weren't quite behind her — she likely only had a few weeks to live at this point — the dog found a new, fresh energy that enlivened her every step.
And her new friends were eager to show her just how big and full of love the world could be.
So, Miss Willie had a short time to live the big, beautiful life she had always deserved.
First, Cochran took her home. An actual home. And, for the first time in her life, she knew what it was like to have a bed.
She would sure need the rest. Because from there, Miss Willie embarked on a whirlwind tour of all that was good in life.
Her friends threw a birthday party for her — with a cake big enough to make up for all the birthdays she had spent alone.
And then there was the canoe trip. And a beach day.
(For a dog who knew water only as the stuff in a dirty old bowl, this was quite a change.)
And pizza! What kind of world is this?
Well, it's the kind of world, she soon learned, that produces burritos, too.
Then there was a full-body massage, with warm, kind hands rolling those hard years right out of Miss Willie.
And kisses every day. Until her very last day.
On the 16th day of her freedom, Miss Willie fell into the big sleep, dying peacefully among friends, with a heart full of love.
Good night, sweet princess.