‘Please love me’: Note attached to dog found in Chattanooga leads shelter to find and help homeless owner

When a Chattanooga resident found a fluffy great Pyrenees and German shepherd mix wandering Chattanooga with a leash and a note attached to its collar, it was apparent the dog was not just any stray.

"Please love me," the note said. "My mom can't keep me and is homeless with two 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 note said the dog's name is Lilo and requested that her name not be changed. In Hawaiian, Lilo means to be lost, separated from or passed into the possession of another.

Lilo was brought to McKamey Animal Center, and staff took to social media to find the dog's owner.

(READ MORE: McKamey Animal Center drops breed labels for animals in its care)

"It was so clear to us that Lilo was well-loved and cared for," McKamey Director of Advancement Lauren Mann said by email. "The note attached to her collar proved that this was an act of desperation and not something that wanted to be done."

Lilo's owner called the shelter after a friend of hers saw McKamey's post on Facebook, and soon she was tearfully reunited for a shelter visit with the beloved pet she gave up because she felt she had no other option.

McKamey staff members are working with local agencies to help the woman find a home so she can permanently reunite with Lilo, Mann said.

(READ MORE: Homelessness increased by 177% in Hamilton County, 153% in the region since 2021, according to new data)

About 10% of people experiencing homelessness have a pet, and 1 in 5 of them don't accept shelter because their pet can't join them, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Local shelters have varying policies regarding whether residents can stay with their pets.

Pets are not allowed at Maclellan Shelter for Families, a short-term emergency shelter in Chattanooga for families experiencing homelessness, shelter supervisor and administrative assistant Cassie DeMasi said. She is new to the job and does not know the reason for the policy, she said.

Chattanooga Room in the Inn, a temporary shelter in Chattanooga for women and children experiencing homelessness, allows residents to bring most pets, although some are restricted based on breed and size.

"When they're already going through being homeless, it's hard for them to be separated from their pet," administraitive assistant Kenya Ervin said.

Lilo is living at McKamey until her family finds shelter where pets are welcome.

"We will provide all resources necessary to get them set back up for success when Lilo goes home with them," Mann said.

While Lilo is receiving more attention than most pets surrendered by owners who cannot take care of them, the situation is not uncommon.

"As inflation continues to rise, people are definitely struggling to provide for their families, pets included," Mann said.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga officials, groups see need for more supportive housing to combat homelessness)

The cost of basic food and monthly vet care for a large-breed dog like Lilo could range from $55-$300 a month, she said.

Lilo came to McKamey as a stray, so the shelter was legally required to take her in, but owners who want or need to surrender their animals must make an appointment and join a waitlist of nearly 400 animals.

"We are encouraging those who are seeking to rehome their pet to try to do so on their own before turning to us," said Mann, adding that the shelter is over its humane capacity. "We refer all people who are looking to rehome their pet to our website and encourage them to call us for assistance and help navigate their situations. Many times, people are just unaware of the resources we offer."

She said McKamey provides low-cost weekly vaccine and microchip clinics, low-cost spay and neuter surgeries, and a pet food pantry to residents in its service area comprising the cities of Chattanooga, Red Bank and Lakesite.

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Free and low-cost pet care resources in Chattanooga

— Alice Fund, located at the Cat Clinic at 310 Cherokee Blvd., provides medical care and supplies to cats in need. Call 423-752-0737 or visit thealicefund.org for more information.

— Chattaneuter, at 5950 Brainerd Road, offers low-cost spay and neuter services, microchipping and vaccinations regardless of residency. Call 423-531-7729 for more information or visit clinichq.com to make an appointment.

— Humane Educational Society has a pet food pantry, at its thrift store at 4784 Highway 58, that is open to low-income residents of Hamilton County. It also offers low-cost vaccine clinics on the last Saturday of each month at varying locations. Call 423-624-5302 or visit heschatt.org for more information.

— McKamey Animal Center, 4500 N. Access Road, provides low-cost vaccine and microchip clinics, spay and neuter surgeries and a pet food pantry to Chattanooga, Red Bank and Lakesite residents. For more information call 423-305-6500 or visit mckameyanimalcenter.org.

— Pets for Life - Chattanooga offers low-cost veterinary care, pet supplies and services to Alton Park residents. Email communityoutreach@mckameyanimalcenter for more information.

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.

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