The large framed picture in Amanda Timoney's living room in her Beachwood home sums up her mother's life in one black-and-white photo.
Dona Timoney is leaning over her newly rescued pit bull mix Lilly. Lilly — then an 8-month-old pup — gazes up at her, poised for a kiss.
Dona once rescued Lilly. And on June 1, Lilly rescued Dona.
The bittersweet story — "Pit Bull Leads Good Samaritan To Stricken Owner in Double Trouble State Park" — touched thousands across the United States and some over the world. It was the most read story of any Patch, ever.
Dona — a mail carrier at the Pine Beach Post Office — took Lilly to Double Trouble nearly every day, even though Amanda didn't think she should go to the heavily wooded park alone.
"I used to get mad at her for going back there by herself," Amanda said. "She took Lilly there every day of the week."
Amanda last talked to her mother the night before Dona's last visit to Double Trouble. They made plans for her to visit that weekend. Dona told Amanda she was going to bed. She had a headache.
Amanda wasn't concerned. Both she and her mother had a long history of headaches, including migraines, tension headaches and sinus headaches.
"She said she had a very bad headache," Amanda recalled. "I didn't think anything of it. We both had frequent headaches."
That Friday was the last day of Dona's vacation. She trundled Lilly into her blue Subaru Outback — the one with the "Animal Friendly" license plates — and headed off to nearby Double Trouble.
But something happened as Dona plodded down the sugar sand path near the first cranberry bog. A blood vessel inside her skull burst. She collapsed and fell into some tall grass off the path.
The Good Samaritan
Bayville resident Frank Delarosa was in the right place that day. Delarosa was jogging when he spotted Lilly farther down the path, with her pink leash dragging behind her.
"She was just looking for someone to pass by," Delarosa said. "I got the leash, and I started going to where the ranger's office was. She stops and pulls me back the other way. I'm pulling one way, she's pulling the other."
So Delarosa decided to follow Lilly. She led him to an unconscious Dona farther down, off the path where no one could see her. He saw a sneaker jutting out from the grass.
"She pulled me over," he said. "She started licking the lady's face. That dog was unbelievable."
Berkeley Township Police Detective Will Cullen and Patrolman Jon Sperber arrived on the scene. Dona was first taken to Community Medical Center in Toms River.
"They intubated her and basically said she had died," Amanda said.
But Dona was flown to St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, where doctors tried everything they could to save her life more than a week.
"They told me from the first it was bad," Amanda said. "They had the whole neurological team there. The doctors were amazing."
Sadly, Dona Timoney never regained consciousness. She died despite the doctors' many efforts, 12 days later.
But she did not die alone in the bogs. Lilly made sure of that.
Amanda Timoney now lives with her boyfriend Jeremy, Lilly, three cats and her mother's four birds in her Seaman Avenue home. They live in the house her grandfather Gabriel Mistichelli - a retired New Jersey state trooper - built nearly two decades ago.
Lilly has bonded to Amanda and sometimes cries if she even leaves the house to take out the garbage. The two slept together on the living room couch in those first dark days after Dona's death.
Her mother's death was not the first great loss Amanda Timoney has had to deal with. The 31-year-old lost her father Robert Timoney to lung cancer back in 1989, when she was just nine years old.
"I try and look at the positive," she said. "It was very hard in the beginning. I try not to feel sorry for myself."
Amanda — an only child — said she and her mother were "like sisters."
"She was just 20 when she had me," she said.
So when Amanda moved out to teach special education at a private school in West Orange, Dona was in "kind of a funk," until she found Lilly on an animal rescue group website. Lilly had been rescued from a North Caroline drug house earlier in 2011.
"Lilly needed Mom and my Mom needed Lilly," Amanda said. "When Lilly came it was like having a baby. It made the whole feeling in the house a little lighter."
Amanda is very close to her grandfather and uncles. She is starting a new career today with a real estate firm in Toms River. And she is also going for an MRI today to make sure she does not have a genetic condition similar to her mother's.
A Forever Home
Lilly has a brindle coat and an ear that droops. She weigh 52 pounds now and is "a little goofy," Amanda says. She loves her bones and eats just about anything. That includes a new book Amanda just ordered from Amazon.
And Lilly's not going anywhere.
"Some people said to me after my mother died, 'I hope you can find her a good home,' " Amanda recalled. "She's got a home."
Amanda leans over and gives Lilly a kiss.
"You're a good girl," she said.