Animal shelter helps reunite dogs with homeless families: “No dry eyes in the room”
Last week, an animal protection team from the McCamey Animal Center was sent to Chattanooga, Tennessee to pick up a lost dog that had wandered into the neighborhood. When they arrived, they found a heart-wrenching handwritten note on the puppy’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 tries her best, but gets no help. I have given so much to her. She really loves me and I am a wonderful dog that loves to be loved. Please don’t abuse me.”
The letter also included a request, “Please keep my name.”
Lauren D. Mann, MAC’s director of development, told Yahoo Life that when her team found Lilo’s note, they decided to share the animal’s story on social media in hopes that Lilo would be reunited with his family again.
“We know so many people are struggling to care for their pets right now. We know how hard it is to give up an animal you love so much because you can’t provide the care she needs. We understand,” MAC wrote on its Facebook page with photos of Star Baby and this letter. “We want you to know that she is safe and we will take good care of her. She will be loved by our staff and volunteers, we will keep her name, and we assure you that we will do our best to find her a wonderful new home.”
“If you’re reading this,” the post continues, “we hope you’ll step up to the plate to get her back. We will help you care for her to the best of our ability.”
Mann says she and her team were eager to capture Lilo’s story so they could shed light on what she calls the “national asylum crisis.
“Many homeless shelters around the country are not actually pet-friendly, and that in itself is an ongoing problem. There’s a lot of data that shows people won’t seek help – if it’s a domestic violence case or something like that – if they can’t bring their pets,” she said.
The National Coalition for the Homeless estimates that 10 percent of the total population experiencing homelessness has pets in their care, and one in five of those people don’t take shelters because their pets can’t join them. However, some organizations in the Lilo area are working to bridge this gap, such as the Chattanooga Room in the Inn, a pet-friendly shelter for women and children, and the YWCA Weaver Center for Domestic Violence in Nashville, the area’s leading provider of domestic violence services, which also allows pets.
“People are struggling right now. Most importantly, they just need kindness and compassion,” Mann said, adding that her team also sees “stray dogs coming in every day.”
A happy ending
The confidentially identified dog owner saw MAC’s Facebook post, and on Wednesday night, she and her two children were reunited with their pups.
“When Lilo came out to see them again, there were no dry eyes in the room. I swear, if a dog can cry, she sure can,” said Mann, who made it clear that her team took the proper steps to ensure they were Lilo’s true owners.
“We are actively working with families to provide a safe haven, shelter and resources to keep them together and address homelessness,” the shelter shared on Facebook following the reunion. “We are grateful to all who supported the families and shared our post. We are amazed at the outpouring of support. It really takes a community and you all showed us how powerful we can be.”
However, Mann said Lilo is in the care of MAC until her team can find a “safe haven” for the family to be reunited again.
“We’re waiting to hear back from several of our different partner agencies to try to place them in pet-friendly housing,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can to reunite them and get them into a safe haven now.”
While it’s important to note that “abandoning animals is illegal,” Mann said, she hopes Lilo’s story will encourage a broader conversation about the various obstacles animal activists face.
“The lack of veterinarians and access to affordable veterinary care across the country is causing [a crisis]. Funding for affordable free spay/neuter programs has also stopped, so now we have an overpopulation problem,” she said. “I can think of three dogs that have been here for over a year just waiting for a doctor at our facility, and this is happening all over the country.”
For others who may be struggling to meet the needs of their animals, Mann recommends not being afraid to seek help from local animal shelters.
“Reach out to your shelter,” she said. “At the end of the day, there are people who care about them and they do want to offer help.