A story for the ages.
One day at the shelter I walked by Layla's kennel and something made me stop. It was like some force in the universe apprehended me. After being frozen there for a second, I took her out and we started playing fetch. She was full of life and sweet as could be. While we were rolling around on the ground I noticed that she had an extreme limp. But Layla wasn't about to let that hold her back from enjoying the experience.
Unfortunately, I had to tell her that we needed to slow down and end our playdate. We settled down for a little while before I had to put her back in her kennel. I was extremely concerned about her limp and her general background so I inquired about her story and read her file. I came to find out that she had been in and out of numerous homes. Then I read the litany of lame excuses; "I'm moving and can't take her.", "We got a divorce.", and "We just had a baby and can't keep her.". I was dumbfounded! At this point, she had been in the shelter for about a year and a half. How could this sweet energetic dog not have a home for almost 2 years? Were we posting about her enough? Who was her champion and who was advocating for her? Everyone at the shelter loved her, but who was going the extra mile to find this perfect dog a home?!
Layla Takes Over Social Media.
I immediately created a post on my own Facebook profile telling Layla's story! It gained good traction, a good amount of likes and shares. I didn't have the ability to post on the shelter's Facebook page because it was run by a county appointed webmaster who had absolutely zero connection with the animals and lacked understanding of how social media works. But that's how it was so I kept posting on my own Facebook profile hoping something would come of it.
My posts were effective but it wasn't enough. Sure, they were bringing people in and there was an outpouring of likes, comments, and shares, but Layla was still stuck in the shelter. I knew I had to do more. My boyfriend Jay is an animal lover as well (duh) and a talented creative professional so we went to work on making flyers. THOUSANDS of flyers were passed out. I swear I must've put flyers on every car in Porter County. I put them on cars at churches, shopping malls, and restaurants. We passed them out in the freezing cold during holiday events and took them into local businesses. Still nothing.
TIME FOR A VIDEO
Jay and I went over on a brisk day to take Layla out and capture some video and photographs. After Jay finished the production of the video, I was able to get it posted on the actual shelter's Facebook page. The video generated over 30,000 views, thousands of shares and likes and all of them were local. Do you think it brought in any serious inquiries? You think it would, right?
Even after the huge success of the video's reach, it still didn't bring in any serious adopters. I knew I had to think larger still. There's no way I was going to settle and fail Layla. I began to reach out to national platforms. My research pointed to me contact platforms such as Bark, Susie's Senior Dogs, ShelterMe TV, The Shelter Pet Project, and The Dodo. A few of the platforms picked up her story and wrote articles that shed some national light on her story but days passed with no new inquiries. While waiting to hear back, I was still going strong on passing out flyers, taking Layla to events with her Adopt Me vest on, and posting like crazy. At this point, I was almost a year into trying to find her a home. I felt defeated. I felt like a failure. Added to the list of people who failed her in her life. There were a lot of tears shed and red-faced screaming frustration. I was trying to stay positive but the cocktail of negative emotions made it very hard.
A LIGHT SHINES
Finally, 6 months after I sent an e-mail to Bark
Honestly, I kind of forgot that I had even sent the email. Then the fateful response came, Bark wanted to post Layla's video with their own branding and promote to their millions of followers. If you're not familiar with Bark, they are the parent company that owns BarkBox.
After several e-mails back and forth with Benjamin from Bark, I anxiously awaited their post. But 6 months went by and... crickets. Then one day when I arrived at work "Hey, Kelly, there's a message from a gentleman inquiring about Layla. He said something about Maryland. I don't know if they live there or what. Why don't you call him back and see?" I rushed for the phone. "Hello, this is John." said the warm voice on the other end. I learned that he and his wife Lilya lived over 675 miles away in Maryland. They had no other animals, a fenced-in backyard, and were both seniors with no little children running around. It sounded like heaven for Layla. Could this be it?!
That INDESCRIBABLE feeling
It seemed too good to be true. In my elated state, I forgot to ask how in the world a couple in Maryland, 11 hours away with no ties to Valparaiso, IN, saw Layla's story. John later told me that Lilya was scrolling Google and saw Layla's video pop up. The video I had no idea Bark had posted. I said "Oh my God WHAT?! Are you kidding?!". We kept in contact for the days in between and little did I know the foundations for a beautiful relationship were being laid. They sent me pictures of their home and they remotely filled out the application. I went over the application with my coworkers. I called them back "Everything looks perfect. If you're serious we would love for you to adopt Layla.". I started thinking about how crazy it was and maybe I could drive halfway to meet them. God willing she liked them, everything would be okay.
Unbelievably they said that they would be happy to drive to Valparaiso from Silver Spring, get a hotel room, and come to the shelter first thing that next morning meet her, adopt her, and head back home. I sent them hotel suggestions, they made reservations, and I FINALLY was able to put an ADOPTED tag on Layla's cage!!
A couple of weeks passed and the day had finally arrived! This was it. I packed her bag. I got her paperwork ready.
Layla and I bonded a little while longer out walking in the field I told her to be a good girl and this was it. This was her happily ever after. She finally found it. We did it. This was her last chapter but best one yet. So, everyone was in the lobby waiting and we walked in from outside and she was greeted with love. She was definitely a bit overwhelmed at first but nonetheless happy. Everyone seemed to mesh well, we did the paperwork. We cried. We hugged. We packed her stuff up and headed out the door to their van. I helped her in the van and off they went. I saw the Maryland license plate, my sweet girl, and two beautiful humans pull away. I just hoped and prayed everything would be fine. Honestly, I didn't have a bad vibe at all.
11 hours and multiple texts
All throughout their journey back to Maryland they texted and sent pictures!! She had settled in the car nicely, they stopped several times for her to potty and for breaks, and everything was going very smoothly. They made it home around 10-11pm that night. The sweetest text and pictures came through in third person from Layla. She was exploring the house, found a couple of spots to already claim her own but finally settled in in one of her many beds for the evening. It was a long and overwhelming day for everyone and she and her new parents were ready for bed. My heart was full. My heart was happy. My heart was over flowing.
I thought after a couple weeks of texting if things would dissipate and we might text every few months maybe or maybe it would be reduced to just holidays? Well, weeks passed by and we hadn't missed a day of texting. My birthday was approaching and that would mark 6 months of her being adoption anniversary. I kind of joked about how I would love to visit this and that but never would want to impose? Would that be weird to go visit and stay in their home with them? We could get a hotel, yeah a hotel. Well, before I knew it we had serious plans to go visit for my birthday to go see Layla and of course they insisted we would stay with them!
My heart was beating so fast. I was sweating. It was about 1 minute until we pulled in the driveway! Would she remember me? They never forget I've been told and am a firm believer of but what if this time would be different and she forgot me or wasn't excited to see me. We pulled in. All three were waiting in the drive way for us. As soon as we pulled in, I opened the door and she leaped into my lap before I could even get out. She started kissing my face and her body wiggled with pure joy and excitement. It was an emotionally overwhelming moment for everyone.
It didn't stop there. We text, call, and/or email everyday! We found ourselves going back every 2-3 months. When two people become two of the most important people in your life you do whatever you can to see them as often as you can. Sometimes we would go and would have a full agenda going to DC, museums, monuments, neighboring states, trying different restaurants and sometimes we would just veg and have a relaxing time drinking tea and watching animal/earth shows on tv hanging out.
A new beginning
A dog like Layla is only given to a few people. She graced us with a love that can never be lost. She is inextricably a part of our souls that will go with us wherever we are even if we can't see her anymore. Layla didn't die. She merely ran up ahead waiting for us out of sight until our final day when we can meet her again at the gates. Maybe the 3 years in the shelter and her horrible past was all an illusion and we had to wait for the stars to align and everything to fall into place for her to become the dog with the purpose that was always mean to be.
Layla was such a special creature to have brought us together from halfway across the country and turned us from strangers into family. John and Lilya (Mom & Dad) are two of the kindest and most beautiful humans I know and our lives have forever been changed by knowing them. The universe and Layla has brought us together and I will eternally be grateful. People like John & Lilya make the world a better place and everyone would be so lucky to meet such sweet souls.
It's a story I wish I could tell the world. The world needs this kind of story. A DOG did that! A dog changed everything. All because someone didn't give up on a dog. All because someone went the extra mile. All because someone was and is irrationally passionate about what they do. All because of SOCIAL MEDIA! This is the power of social media. This is how important social media is when trying to find an animal a home and in some cases a second family! She will continue to help others even though she is gone now through me & Silverstray for the rest of forever. Her story lives on. John and Lilya only had Layla for 15 months. Only 15!!! Can you imagine if we hadn't done everything we could and then some to promote her to the universe she could have very well died in the shelter. That's why it's so so so so important for shelters and rescues to use social media effectively to be able to promote their dogs. Dogs lives are so short already to begin with. We need to be their advocates. We need to be their voice. If we work in that environment we need to do everything in our power to get those animals promoted and out into loving homes.