Two years ago, Mercedes Trujillo was at college in Utah when she got a text from her stepmom about a dog that her sister had nearly run over. The pup was wearing a name tag that read:
“My name is Lilly. If you found me, pls keep me. My fam can’t & I need love”
The heartbreaking photos of a scared dog with a tag on her collar resonated with Mercedes, and she had the feeling that this dog was the one she had been looking for.
The next day, Mercedes made the hour drive home and knew that she couldn’t let Lilly go to another place or family. We had the opportunity to talk to Mercedes about how Lilly ended up saving her, rather than the other way around.
The initial days with Lilly were pretty rough. Lilly was terrified of men, aggressively so, and was suffering from extreme separation anxiety.
“Her issues definitely put a lot of strain on my living situation. At home it was okay because my dad and stepmom knew how much I cared for her, but the people I was living with up at school were afraid that her fear of men would put them in danger, which I 100% understood.
Lilly would lash out at them, even if I was right there. It wasn’t good. So, I moved home, and drove every day to school, just so I could keep Lilly. Of course there were thoughts of how things would be easier if I let her go to another home, but I didn’t want anything happening to her that I couldn’t control.
The hour drive back and forth was taking a toll on me, but Lilly was happy at my dad’s. So I got a letter from my therapist about how she was helping me mentally (I was NOT in a good place mentally and Lilly was honestly the only thing keeping me around) and the university let her and I move in to on-campus housing together.
That was when Lilly finally settled down. I lived in a two-bedroom apartment that was owned by the university. We had our own room and then had two roommates that lived in the other room, but they LOVED Lilly. I kept her in my room when I was in class, but it’s almost like she KNEW she couldn’t be thrown out of that space, that it was 100% hers. She was not destructive in that apartment at all. She didn’t chew on anything that wasn’t hers or rip up the floor trying to escape.”
While the struggle to find a place where Lilly could feel safe enough to stop causing destruction was difficult for Mercedes, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It was very difficult to keep moving, especially since I wasn’t okay mentally, but I just clung to Lilly because we were both like black sheep; just a little too different to live in peace with others. Having her and not feeling so alone anymore was definitely what gave me the strength to keep finding places for us. We just connected in a way that I can’t really describe. She understood me and I understood her.”
Mercedes wanted to help Lilly overcome her fear of men, so she asked her professors for permission to bring Lilly to her predominantly male mechanical engineering classes.
“I am pretty lucky that my university was very open to having dogs around. They know that dogs can help a lot of people and because the suicide epidemic in Utah is so high, they were willing to do almost anything within reason to help students. I spoke to professors privately and most were willing to let Lilly into the class, since I was in my senior year and the class sizes were smaller. They knew that I was trying to socialize her and respected that. It only took her a couple of weeks and lots of treats to get her to warm up to the guys in my class. I think it helped that I tended to hang out with the same guys and they all liked dogs, so they proved to her that not all guys were going to hurt her.
She doesn’t really have any lingering doubts about men anymore! Once she was pretty comfortable on campus and wasn’t growling at every man that passed, I started taking her to the dog park. That definitely helped show her that many people do like dogs, while also allowing her to socialize with other dogs.”
Now that Lilly has found her comfort zone, she enjoys joining Mercedes for hikes, camping, and running on the beach in their new home in California, especially now that she has a younger sister, Ayla, a rescue from The Barking Lot that became a part of the family just a few weeks ago.
“I just adopted Ayla about three weeks ago. I was feeling bad because Lilly kept trying to play with her cat siblings, but they’re old (I have an 18 year old and two 14 year olds), so they just want to hang out. Lilly has usually always lived with another dog but it’s always been somebody else’s, so I was a little worried that she would be jealous of another dog that was mine. So far, things have been great! Ayla is warming up very fast. She’s almost easier because she’s not aggressive when scared. But I take them to the park every day and just let them do their thing.”
Is there anything Mercedes would change about how Lilly was abandoned or how difficult it was for Lilly to settle into her happy new life?
“I want to say that I do not harbor any bad feelings toward those who abandoned her and those who couldn’t have us in their homes anymore. I can’t imagine having to make decisions like that, but sometimes you have to. I will definitely say to people that even if a dog seems like it’s going to be a lot of work at first, it’s worth it to give it a shot. I know people get turned off by dogs being super shy, but most of the time, all they need is patience, stability, and love. Rescue dogs are fantastic.
I’m so glad that Lilly came into my life when she did because I’m not 100% sure I’d still be here if she didn’t.”
Since we first shared this post, Lilly’s sister Ayla passed away. Even before she had spent a year with her new family, Ayla was hit by a passing car.