CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WKRN) — In 48 hours, the McKamey Animal Center managed to tug on thousands of people’s heartstrings and reunite a family with their pet.

The shelter posted about Lilo, a big, fluffy bear of a dog who was found wandering around a Chattanooga neighborhood and brought to the shelter after being spotted by a good Samaritan.

Lilo, McKamey Animal Center
Lilo’s owner surrendered her with a note saying she could no longer afford to care for her due to being homeless and having two children to care for. (Courtesy: McKamey Animal Center)

She had note attached to her collar explaining that her mom was hoping to find her a better home. The owner was homeless and had two children to care for, and she couldn’t afford to keep caring for Lilo.

According to Lauren Mann, Director of Advancement for McKamey Animal Center, Lilo’s note “absolutely broke our hearts.”

When the MAC Animal Protection Team brought Lilo into the shelter, the staff opted to give her some time to decompress, as she was scared at being in unfamiliar surroundings with unfamiliar people.

“She was very scared when she first came in, of course,” Mann told News 2. The staff also decided they wanted to see if they couldn’t find Lilo’s owner and reunite her with her family. The staff made a post on Facebook sharing Lilo’s picture as well as the note her owner left with her.

The post, which went viral, explained that the MAC staff understood the difficult choice Lilo’s owner had to make but wished they had asked for help instead of abandoning their pet.

“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. We’re here to help and we want to see people and their pets stay together, no matter the circumstances,” the center posted.

“We were really hoping through the power of social media that we could find them, and we’re so thankful that we did,” Mann said.

Within 24 hours of the post, the MAC staff announced they found Lilo’s owner. The center shared a new picture of Lilo, this time with her owner, tongue lolling out and a happy smile on her muzzle.

“She’s a sweetheart. She’s really, really great,” Mann said of Lilo. “She’s very fluffy and loveable and loves to be loved on just like her mom said in the note. She was very happy to see her people last night.”

Lilo was reunited with her owner within 48 hours of the viral post about her, according to the McKamey Animal Center. (Courtesy: McKamey Animal Center)

The center is “actively working with partnering agencies” in the Chattanooga area to help the family get into a safe, pet-friendly shelter and give them resources they’ll need to continue caring for Lilo as a family, according to Mann.

The entire experience has been overwhelming for the center, she added.

“It’s been very humbling. It’s very heartwarming to see the country come together and support us and the situation in general,” Mann said. “Quite a few of us were crying happy tears about it this morning. It’s been an emotional last 48 hours.”

Sadly, Lilo’s story is not that unusual these days, Mann said.

The animal care community is amid several concurrent crises, including a sheltering crisis, a veterinary shortage and a shortage of accessible animal care. MAC alone took in more than 5,000 animals over the last year. The sheltering crisis alone has particularly kicked up from the pandemic, she told News 2.

“There has been a crisis going on since the pandemic really started for animal shelters all over the country, and particularly in the south,” she said.

As the economy has fluctuated and inflation risen over the years, Mann said MAC is seeing the numbers of owner surrender requests skyrocket.

“We have a waitlist here of nearly 500 animals right now just for owner surrenders. It’s definitely a problem we’re seeing regularly, and it’s not unusual,” she said. “I can tell you that, compared to just a few years ago, our phones are ringing nonstop every single day here. The requests are back-to-back. Our email inboxes are flooded every single day. People are messaging us on social media platforms asking for help, so it’s definitely a dire need.”

Luckily, Lilo’s story has inspired people all over the country to seek for ways to get involved in animal care. While thousands of people have seen and shared Lilo’s story, Mann and the MAC staff have been encouraging people from out of the area to “be a hero” to local animals and local homeless shelters.

Lilo’s story went viral after being posted by the McKamey Animal Center in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Courtesy: McKamey Animal Center)

“Absolutely reach out to your local animal shelter and your local homeless shelter. People are struggling right now, and monetary donations make all the difference at nonprofit organizations, and so do supply donations,” she said.

She’s also hoping people don’t see animal shelters as boogeymen.

“I think there’s a huge stigma, unfortunately, when it comes to animal sheltering. A lot of people see us as the dog catchers or the enemy and we’re going to take away their pet, and that’s the furthest thing from the truth,” she said. “At the end of the day, we want people and their pets to stay together, and we’re here to help, especially our team here.”

Whether it’s pet food, dog crates or other supply items, MAC will help those who need it whenever they can, Mann added.

“It’s little things like that that make the whole difference in this situation,” she said. “It’s just much better for the animal’s welfare overall to stay with the person rather than come into the shelter.”