Animal shelter helps reunite dog with homeless family: 'There was not a dry eye in the room'

When an adorable pup named Lilo arrived to an animal shelter with a heart-wrenching note from its owner, folks at McKamey Animal Center decided to step in. (Credit: McKamey Animal Center)
When an adorable pup named Lilo arrived to an animal shelter with a heart-wrenching note from its owner, folks at McKamey Animal Center decided to step in. (Credit: McKamey Animal Center)

Last week, McKamey Animal Center's animal protection team was dispatched to pick up a lost dog wandering around a neighborhood in Chattanooga, Tenn. When they arrived, a heart-wrenching handwritten note was found attached to the pup's collar.

"My name is Lilo," the note read. "Please love me. My mom can't keep me and is homeless with 2 kids. She tried her best but can't get help. I cost too much for her. She really loves me and I'm a great dog and love to be loved on. Please don't abuse me."

The letter had another ask: "Please keep my name."

Lauren D. Mann, director of advancement at MAC, tells Yahoo Life that when her team found Lilo's note, they decided to share the animal's story on social media in hopes of reuniting Lilo with her family again.

"We know many folks are struggling to care for their pets right now. We know how hard it must be to give up an animal you so clearly loved because you can’t provide the care she needs. We understand," MAC wrote on its Facebook page alongside photos of Lilo and the letter. “We want you to know she is safe, and we will take the very best care of her. She will be loved by our staff and volunteers, we will keep her name, and we promise you we will do our best to find her a wonderful new home."

"If you are reading this," the post continued, "we hope you will come forward to reclaim her. We will help you with whatever you need to care for her, to the best of our ability."

Mann says she and her team were eager to capture Lilo's story so they can shed light on what she calls a "national sheltering crisis."

"A lot of shelters for the homeless around the country are not actually pet-friendly, which is an ongoing issue in and of itself. There is tons of data out there that says people will not seek help — if it's a case of domestic violence or something like that — if they cannot take their pet with them," she says.

The National Coalition for the Homeless estimates that 10% of the total population of people experiencing homelessness have a pet that they care for and that 1 in 5 of them don’t accept shelter because their pet can’t join them. Some organizations in Lilo's area are working to bridge that gap, however, such as Chattanooga Room in the Inn, a pet-friendly shelter for women and children, and Nashville's YWCA Weaver Domestic Violence Center, the primary provider of domestic violence services in the region, which also allows pets.

"People are struggling right now. And more than anything, they just need kindness and compassion," Mann says, adding that her team also sees "dogs come in every single day that are strays."

A happy ending

The dog's owner, whose identity is being kept private, saw MAC's Facebook post and on Wednesday night, she and her two children were reunited with their pup.

"There was not a dry eye in the room when Lilo came out and saw them again. I swear if a dog could cry, she definitely did," says Mann, who makes it clear that her team took appropriate steps to ensure they were Lilo's real owners.

"We are actively working with the family to set them up with a safe haven, shelter, and resources to stay together and tackle homelessness," the shelter shared post-reunion on Facebook. "We are thankful for everyone who has advocated for the family, and shared our post. We are amazed at the outpouring of support. It truly takes a community, and you all have certainly shown us how powerful ours is."

Still, Mann says Lilo is under MAC's care until her team can find the family a "safe haven" for them all to be together again.

"We are waiting on a call back from a couple of our different partner agencies to try and place them into pet-friendly housing," she says. "We're doing everything we can to try and keep them reunited and just get them into a safe haven right now."

Though it's important to note that "abandoning an animal is illegal," Mann says, she hopes Lilo's story will encourage broader conversations about the various roadblocks animal activists are faced with.

"There's a national shortage for veterinarians and access to affordable veterinary care, which is playing into [the crisis]. Funding also stopped for affordable and free spay-neuter programs, so now we have an overpopulation problem," she says. "I can think of three dogs off the top of my head that have been here for over a year, waiting for a doctor, just in our facility, and this is happening all over the country."

For anyone else who may be struggling to meet their animals' needs, Mann advises not to be afraid to ask for assistance from your local animal shelter.

"Reach out to your shelter," she says. "There are people out there who care at the end of the day, and they do want to help.

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