[Episcopal News Service] The road-tripping, four-legged Episcopalian whose celebrity rose as he melted hearts and raised spirits last year on the “Last Howlelujah Tour” has died.
Nawiliwili “Wili” Nelson was 12 years old. Or maybe 13.
“He was truly a ‘one-in-a-million’ dog!” said the Rev. Bill Miller, Wili’s devoted human and rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Covington, Louisiana.
Wili, a terrier mix, received a cancer diagnosis in November 2016 and was given as little as three months to live. Instead, with the help of surgery, chemotherapy and a healthier diet, the terrier mix was able to survive quite a bit longer, giving him and Miller the time to embark on last year’s road trip from New Orleans to Las Vegas and back again.
Along the way, the pup and pastor generated news headlines while holding book signings and charity events that raised more than $14,000 for animal wellness charities.
Miller announced Wili’s death Monday on Facebook and later wrote up what he calls Wili’s “Obarktuary.”
Born in Hawaii, Wili’s “first recorded public appearance simply notes that the Kauai Humane Society found him wandering happily by the side of the road,” Miller wrote. “It is thought that he was humming ‘On the Road Again’ by an alternative country-western singer with pig tails whom he greatly resembled, and who resided in his dad’s home state of Texas.”
Miller, serving at a church in Hawaii at the time, adopted him from the humane society in July 2006 and named him after that singer, Willie Nelson.
A 59-year-old Texas native, Miller was in Austin when he got his first dog, an Airedale named Sam, in 1993. The dog’s story of surviving a house fire became the foundation for Miller’s 2005 book, “The Gospel According to Sam.” (Miller’s other book is “The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God.”)
Miller’s side gig as a storyteller shows through in his final tribute, such as his description of their move to Louisiana in 2015. “Wili never met a stranger — he quickly became friends with everyone in his neighborhood, dogs and humans alike. In Louisiana, Wili became well-known as a stuffed-alligator wrestling champion.”
Miller thanked the veterinarians who cared for Wili through the years and offered this guidance for those wishing to pay their respects: “In lieu of bones, everyone is encouraged to sniff your loved ones today, and send a donation to your favorite animal welfare organization, especially those Wili supported on his Last Howlelujah Tour, plus the Kauai Humane Society, and the St. Tammany Humane Society.”
A celebration of Wili’s life is in the works, Miller said, “featuring barbecue and beer.”
And a book about the Last Howlelujah Tour? “Perhaps.”
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.