Wisconsin girl, 8, who went viral as a dog lover has died after battle with brain tumor

Evan Frank, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Emma Mertens is a terminally ill 7-year-old receiving dog letters from across the country.

An 8-year-old Wisconsin girl who became internationally known as a dog lover after a viral post asked dog owners to send pictures and letters has died.

The Team Emma Facebook page announced that Emma Mertens of Hartland died Nov. 17 in the arms of her parents, Geoff and Tammy, after a battle with a rare and inoperable brain tumor, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG).

"She fought so hard but it was time to go home and leave the pain behind," the Facebook post stated. "In her final hours, we told her how many people love her and that it was OK to go. We will miss her dearly."

Her love for animals, specifically dogs, led some family friends to mail or email pictures of their dogs to cheer Emma up after her diagnosis on Jan. 23, 2019. Then they asked some of their friends to send pictures, who told more friends. 

Emma Mertens received a visit from police dogs from across the state on March 9.

Within days, multiple posts on social media went viral. The Mertenses interviewed with "Good Morning America" on Feb. 27 and news stations all over the country.

Emma received thousands of dog photos, her father said in February.

"You should see her smile or giggle," Geoff said. "She's a huge fan of larger dogs ... but she loves the pictures that come up with just funny and cute dogs. When a dog is doing something silly she just lights up."

GoFundMe was set up to raise money for the Mertens family, bringing in nearly $137,000.

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While Emma received dog pictures, letters and gifts from all over the world, police across her home state wanted to do something more. On March 9, police and their K-9 companions — from nearby and hours away — lined the street leading to her home. 

The Mertenses knew police who served nearby had planned to come by with their dogs, but were surprised when they found nearly 40 police dogs waiting to meet Emma.

"Emma was completely surprised and just smiling the whole time as a parade of police cars and dogs lined the neighborhood," Geoff said in March.

"She had just a huge smile," said canine handler Shawn Fritsch. "It was just important for me to see this girl smile and brighten up her day when I know she is fighting so hard."

"We are so appreciative of the police that gave their time," Geoff said. "Even if it were just for a couple of minutes it really made her day, and it's a memory we will never forget."

On April 27, the Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha in Wisconsin surprised Emma with the 2019 Diana Boettcher Youth Community Kindness Award, which recognizes a young person who stands out above the rest concerning their commitment to animals. For her half birthday this year, Emma asked friends to donate to HAWS instead of giving her gifts.

If it wasn't clear already, Emma showed how strong she was in July when she threw out the first pitch at her brother's baseball game a day after undergoing emergency surgery.

Emma Mertens, a 7-year-old from Wisconsin, threw out the first pitch at her brother's baseball game a day after emergency surgery.

"She woke up from that procedure Friday night and said right away, 'I'm ready, let's go home. I've got to throw that pitch tomorrow.'" Geoff said in July. "Unfortunately, we couldn't get out quite that quick, but I told the doctors about it, and they knew it was important to her."

Four hours after being released from the hospital, she was escorted onto the field by her grandfather, Ken Mertens.

The entire team signed the ball for Emma, who put it in her bedroom.

Emma Loves Dogs Foundation

On Aug. 30, the Emma Loves Dogs Foundation was born. Its mission is to provide financial assistance to organizations that share Emma’s passion for helping animals, such as police K9 units and non-kill animal shelters.

"We obviously really appreciate the support we've received from our community," Geoff said. "People have really rallied around us; we feel it, and we appreciate it."

In lieu of gifts and flowers, the family suggested people keep Emma’s memory alive by supporting her foundation. 

"Through all of this battle, all Emma wanted to do was spread kindness and help animals," her Facebook page stated.

Funeral arrangements will be announced soon, according to the Facebook page. The family plans to live stream Emma's service on Facebook.

Follow Evan Frank on Twitter at @Evanfrank_LCP

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Emma Mertens: Wisconsin girl, dog lover dies after brain tumor battle