When a stranger handed in a helpless dog to the local animal shelter, staff went above and beyond the care of duty to give her the happy ending she deserved. Here's their remarkable story.
McKamey Animal Center
McKamey Animal Center (MAC) is located in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and has been serving the community for nearly fifteen years. In 2022, they took in nearly 5,000 pets in need of a home.
Because of their "compassionate care, community engagement, and advocacy for animals," they are a beacon of hope in the area, supporting the local animals in all the necessary ways. And in January 2023, their motto, "Saving animals. Helping people." was taken to a whole new level...
A Surprise Arrival
On January 24th, a day they believed would be like any other, the team at MAC received an unexpected delivery. On most occasions, the dogs brought in were either from someone who didn't want to be a pet owner anymore or by a stranger who had found a stray on the street.
At first glance, this situation appeared to be the latter. However, on close inspection, they realized it had a collar, indicating it was not a stray but did have an owner. The kind woman who brought the dog in had no information to share on the dog's background; she had just found it on the street and had been concerned.
Taking Her In
With no chip or identification paperwork, they had no idea who this dog was and where she came from. Regardless, they took the adorable canine under their care, feeding her and giving her a very necessary bath. After all, looking after animals was their priority above all else.
They did not believe they would ever be able to find out this dog's full story or know how she had ended up alone on the street. So, she would become part of the shelter family until someone came in to adopt her. Just when they began to process her in the shelter record system, they noticed a note attached to her collar.
It was a crumbled-up piece of paper that was creased and a little stained. However, it was still legible, and that was all that mattered to the MAC team. They were extremely excited about potentially getting further details on this dog's mysterious back story.
"Please keep my name. My name is Lilo. Please love me," it read. "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 & I'm a great dog & love to be loved on. Please don't abuse me."
A Tough Decision
Although it was clear this owner had decided to give up her dog, it was evident that she still loved the canine very much and hadn't wanted to do what she did. The team at MAC knew they wanted to find the owner and discuss options with her. They felt it was not the end of the story.
"It really hit us all, especially that last line of 'Please don't abuse me,'" noted MAC's Director of Advancement Lauren D. Mann. "So we decided that we were going to take to social media, and hopefully, through the power of Facebook and everyone that's out there, we would hope that we could find her."
Breaking the News
The MAC team decided to take some photos of the friendly canine and write up a post they would pin to their Facebook page. They were aware that it might be fruitless - but at the same time, they felt they would always regret it if they didn't try. It was now or never.
"A note to Lilo's mom," they penned. "Lilo arrived at MAC a few days ago after a Good Samaritan found her wandering with her leash still attached, likely near where you left her. We are so sorry that you had to make the decision to leave her behind."
First and foremost, they wanted to reassure Lilo's owner that she was safe. She was undoubtedly concerned for her pet's well-being wherever she was, and they wanted to provide her with that comfort of knowledge. "We want you to know she is safe, and we will take the very best care of her," they wrote in the post.
Regardless of whether she responded, they publicly vowed to take the 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," they virtually told the mysterious owner.
A Public Plea
While they were happy to take care of Lilo themselves until they found her a suitable new home, the optimum outcome, in their opinion, was for Lilo to be with her original family. If financial issues were the only thing preventing that, they would help however they could.
"If you are reading this, we hope you will come forward to reclaim her," the post continued. "We will help you with whatever you need to care for her to the best of our ability. Lilo definitely misses you, and we would like nothing more than to see her go back to the family she loves."
Laying It All on the Table
They emphasized they had the ability to help dog owners under financial strain. "While we understand what and why Lilo's mom did what she did, we wish that she had come to us first for resources and help," they wrote. "We're here to help, and we want to see people and their pets stay together, no matter the circumstance."
"We offer a community pet food pantry for when times are tough, low-cost (and sometimes free!) vaccines, microchips, and spay/neuter services," they notified the public in their Facebook post. "We also have lots of self-rehoming resources available for situations like these."
Lots of Love To Give
In addition to physical resources on site, MAC has valuable partnerships with many homeless shelters and rescue animal charities, allowing them to help dog owners in even more ways than they already do. If they found Lilo's owner, they would be able to offer her these services.
"We are well connected with resources and agencies who are ready and willing to help individuals and families experiencing homelessness," MAC emphasized to the owner in their Facebook post. This, to them, was a public promise to help her in any way as long as she came back.
Facing the Facts
Most importantly, they wanted to ensure that Lilo's owner would not be put off coming forward through fear of judgment. They made it very clear in the statement that they did not judge her for neglecting the animal and understood the difficult decision she likely had to make to do so.
"Either way, please know that we understand, we will not judge, and we are here to help in any way we can. 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."
Paying the Price
Considering the current economic situation, they really did understand why owners were being forced to give up their pets. With medical bills, food costs, and grooming expenses all increasing, taking care of a pet animal has become an extremely expensive job.
According to PetKeen.com, the total spent by people in the US looking after their pets in 2022 was $110 billion. This is likely due to the recent increase in pet food prices which have been rapidly increasing and resulting in the global natural pet food market value standing at $22.8 billion.
In addition to these statistics, the MAC team was highly aware of the increasing number of people abandoning their pets. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, every year, the US sees 6.5 million dogs, cats, and other former pets abandoned or lost and forced to enter shelters.
The odds are then against them being adopted again and finding new homes. The ASPCA states that around half of them will be adopted, many of which will be returned to the shelter. Many will believe they are prepared to adopt a pet, not fully understanding the costs that it entails. Lilo's owner was not alone in her situation.
Finding this unknown owner through social media was a long shot in the dark; they knew that. But they had seen the online world achieve many crazy things over the years. Maybe, if they were lucky, this would be another case to fit into that pattern.
Something in their hearts was telling them it was the right thing to do. They understood there was a chance the owner had already left town in search of work or shelter. Even if she somehow saw the post, there was no guarantee she wouldn't be able to come and collect Lilo.
While everyone hoped and waited for some good news to arrive, the Facebook comments section of the post began to fill up with messages of despair and well wishes. "Oh my Lord ...this is breaking my heart. Can someone not help her and her kids and find a way to let her keep this precious dog...God help us," someone wrote.
"I'm crying. I can't even imagine how hard of a decision this was to make. I want this story to have a happy ending so bad," a concerned community member penned. "The saddest thing breaks my heart that she didn't ask for help. Poor baby," another comment read. Everyone who came across this story was emotionally invested.
A Promising Call
After hours of silence, the MAC team began to lose hope of a reunion occurring. Although many had been interested in the story, no one had reached out with any information, and no owner was coming forward. Then, when they least expected it, the phone rang...
"We got a phone call from someone that was claiming to be her mom," Mann recalled to Good Morning America. "I called them back and asked them questions, and right away, it was very clear that it definitely was her just based off some of the things that were shared with me."
Moment of Truth
Despite their confidence that this woman was telling the truth, they still had to take the necessary precautions to ensure she was Lilo's owner. The MAC team asked her to come down to the shelter in order to verify her identity and chat with her about the situation.
Once they had all the necessary paperwork to confirm she was who she said she was and that Lilo would not be in any danger in her care, it was time for the in-person reunion. As far as they were concerned, this would be the ultimate test to see how Lilo felt toward her.
Everyone held their breath while Lilo was brought into the room to see her owner. They were curious how she would react to seeing her. Would she display anger towards her owner for abandoning her? Would she instantly recognize the woman that had cared for her all this time?
Within seconds of locking eyes, Lilo excitedly ran towards her owner and into her arms. Pictures of this incredibly emotional embrace were posted on the shelter's Facebook page, updating their passionate followers who were eager to know how the search had turned out.
Although the owner's identity was kept hidden for privacy reasons, the MAC team confirmed to the public that Lilo had evidently been their beloved family dog before the separation. It was immediately obvious from the hug just how hard this decision to leave had been for the owner.
"It's very clear just by looking at Lilo that she was very well loved and cared for," Mann told GMA. "The times are tough, and people just need kindness more than anything right now. And so we were just hoping that she would come forward." But now that she finally had, what now?
Ultimately, their highest priority was to keep the family together under one roof. Once a pet bonds with a family, it's always best to avoid separating them. It can take a considerable amount of time for a pet to feel comfortable in a new home, so moving it to live with a new family might put it under unnecessary stress.
Of course, when the pet is not being treated well or is being neglected by its owners, it's preferable to relocate it. But, in this case, it seemed that the only reason Lilo wasn't with her loving family was due to financial circumstances. With that, there was an obvious solution...
Just as they promised, the MAC team got to work helping Lilo's owner however they could. "We are working with some different partnering agencies in town and different nonprofits now to try and get them set up into a pet-friendly shelter and get them back on their feet," Mann explained to GMA.
"While we can't share a lot of the details with you yet, 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 announced to their concerned Facebook followers.
As soon as these updates were published, the post's comments section was filled by people who had been following along closely with this story. After hearing about the reunion and what the shelter had done for the family, many praised their efforts to help those in need.
"So grateful for this News. Thank you for all that y'all do," one person wrote. "Great News. Such a heartwarming ending," another stranger agreed. "Thanks for everyone involved with helping Lilo and her family!" a comment read. "Oh, My Goodness! What wonderful News! Look how happy Lilo is!!!" another post exclaimed.
But these people didn't stop at the praise. They were so invested in this story they wanted to do more to help. "I would like to help this family also," one stranger wrote. "I have clothes/shoes/blankets/food etc. if I knew what ages the children are and sizes."
"How can I help? I said I would provide food for several months (what brand ?) what about donations for the family?" another user offered. "Is there a way to reach out to Mom so we can help her with whatever she needs? Let's lift this family up, so they're never faced with this again," yet another comment read.
Making the News
A beautiful story like this, which saw a dog and her beloved owner reuniting under the toughest and most unlikely circumstances, was understandably picked up by many newspapers and outlets. They were all in awe at the selfless kindness that had been shown.
Ultimately though, the shelter wasn't concerned about garnering fame in its own right. For them, the increased exposure and platform were a chance for them to spread important messages to the public and gather their support and assistance in their mission.
MAC Cares Fund
When no one at the shelter could get Lilo's story off their minds, they decided they needed to do something to ensure it didn't happen again. "In honor of Lilo and her family, MAC has decided to establish a fund dedicated to preventing as many families as possible from being separated from their beloved pets," they announced.
"Donations made to this new fund, tentatively called The MAC Cares Fund, will help people and their pets stay together when homelessness and financial hardship loom by providing things like pet deposits for housing, temporary boarding of animals, food, supplies, and essential veterinary care, and more."
For MAC, these pets do not just belong to their owners; they are part of the community as much as everyone else. Moreover, they believe that everyone should be able to be a part of it, and everyone who has love to give to an animal should be able to adopt one.
"We want Chattanooga to be a community where pets are truly family, not just for the economically privileged but for everyone," they wrote. "We are amazed at the outpouring of support. It truly takes a community, and you all have certainly shown us how powerful ours is."
In response to all the offers of assistance, MAC laid out precisely what people can do to help. "Reaching out a hand of support to your neighbors, donating to emergency care funds like MAC's Angel Fund, and spreading the word about low-cost and free services," they listed.
They also suggested, "supporting the lifesaving work MAC and other local organizations are doing every day." "Please understand that as hard as we try, MAC cannot do it all alone, we need the community's support -- we need your support," they concluded.
Adopt, Don't Shop
In addition to supporting financially, they also asked the public and locals to consider adopting one of their rescue pets if they can. "If Lilo's story moved you, please consider being a hero for a homeless animal (or family!) in your local community," they said.
They also pleaded with the public not to do what Lilo's owner did. "Please do NOT abandon your pet! Abandoning an animal is illegal, but more importantly, it should never have to be an option," they wrote. "If you need help with your pet, please call us or visit our website for resources."
Once again, they emphasized that there is no judgment involved in the process of seeking assistance from them, especially regarding the homelessness aspect. They also encouraged the public not to look down on those who have found themselves on the streets.
Talking to Good Morning America, Mann asked people to understand that "homelessness can really happen to anyone." "There's a lot of stigma and assumptions that come with cases like these, but you really never know who you're going to encounter and what they're dealing with."
Just Getting Started
Most importantly, it's not just MAC that offers this assistance and this range of services. "We're not the only shelter in town or even in the country that offers pet food pantries and assistance with programs," Mann emphasized to GMA. Help is available all over the country.
"If you're a pet owner that is experiencing hardship and needs assistance with your pet, reach out to your local animal shelter and see what they can do and what they can offer to help you," Mann noted. While MAC is doing incredible work, many other shelters are matching up these efforts...