Lilia Hollis never set out to run a rescue. In fact, she thought she was allergic to dogs growing up. But shortly after Hollis and her husband, Clay, bought a house on White Rock Lake, they found stray dogs in the nearby park. One day, Hollis discovered a shih tzu puppy with mange and staph infections in both eyes. She suspects that the night before — when a howling basset hound woke the couple at 3 a.m. — that the hound was trying to lead them to his sick friend. They adopted both dogs and spent thousands of dollars nursing the shih tzu back to health. That was nearly 20 years ago. Today, through their nonprofit, White Rock Dog Rescue, the couple places up to 250 dogs a year in permanent homes and provides low-cost vet care, training and fostering to stray animals.
Were you always an animal lover?
I didn’t think I was an animal lover. I grew up thinking I was allergic to dogs. I met my husband, and he’s a huge animal lover. He came with two big black labs. At first I was afraid, but I progressed from there.
Did you ever think you’d run a rescue?
I have a full-time job as an electrical engineer. I have a master’s in statistics and engineering. If someone said, “You’re going to run a dog rescue,” I would have said, “You’re out of your mind.” What really did it, I was a member of a women’s group and asked a neighbor to go to a happy hour to recruit. We drove by Flagpole Hill, and we saw some puppies in the field. I said, “A litter has been dumped. Let’s see how many we can find.” She said, “We’re going to miss the happy hour.” There were coyotes out there. She went on, and I found four of the puppies. What resonated that day is everyone will say they’re an animal lover, but will you get dirty? Will you miss a happy hour? Will you not go on vacation? I’m OK with that.
Are you tempted to keep all the dogs?
My personal dog, Schnickers, was left tied up to the Fair Oaks Tennis Center. I took him to adoption events. After one, I went upstairs, and I thought I closed the crate. The dog jumped on the bed. He ran up to me, threw himself on his back and kissed me on the chin. That was the moment I knew he was going to stay with me. There’s another dog I kind of cry about all the time. I sent her to New York, and I follow her on Instagram. If I have one too many glasses of wine, I cry, “Aww this dog.” She’s living the life up there.
What do people not know about running a rescue?
Everyone thinks Lakewood is an affluent part of town, but there are pockets where people are living below poverty and need help when their animal gets sick. Right now, there’s a woman who lost her house, so we have a long-term foster who’s watching her dog for three months. We also get hit up with requests like, “My parents died. Can you take their 13-year-old dog?” I wish people would consider their animals in their end-of-life plans. Why can’t their kids take their dog for a couple years? People say, “I don’t have time. I already have one dog.” But they can take their house.
Has this work taken its toll?
The rescue is almost a full-time job. My husband is a sailor, and every year we’d go somewhere different. We haven’t done that since 2005 because who’s going to watch the dogs? The need is always there.
How have you seen the rescue grow?
We do a ton of community outreach now. It’s about marketing. If the dogs aren’t being walked or being shown, they don’t get adopted. We’ve had a puppy kissing booth. We’ve started doing puppy pens at some of the local elementary schools. We inject values while they’re young. Dog fighting is bad. Don’t buy a dog, adopt. The more variety of events we have, the more people come.
How do you raise money?
Our budget is between $80,000 and $100,000. You have to run [the rescue] like a business. If you can’t fundraise or find a good foster network, you will fail. You get in the mentality that you have to save everybody, but you can’t do that. We hit Facebook and Instagram hard. We do restaurant nights. We collect aluminum. There are several places to drop off aluminum like Studio 6 and Craft Beer Cellar. Some high school boys who need service hours crush it and package it. We take up to 800 pounds to be recycled. That’s a couple hundred dollars. Every time I eat dinner at a local place, I talk with the owner. “How can you help?” My tennis team is a big fundraiser. It didn’t start that way, but you go to happy hour, show them a dog and it’s like, “Oh, here you go. Take my money.”
How can neighbors help?
Come to events and walk dogs. We really need social media help. We need to find more appropriate venues for dogs for our restaurant nights and events. It has to be busy and family oriented. We need fosters in this area. If the dog isn’t close, it’s not getting to an event, and it’s not getting adopted. I have to pay for Meetup. It’d be nice to find a sponsor for that.
What’s the most rewarding part?
When the dogs get into homes. Some have come from awful circumstances. There’s a song “The Look of Love.” When you see a dog look at people, and they look back, you know.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
For more information about White Rock Dog Rescue, contact email@example.com or 214.507.4016.