Courtesy of Warren Lillie
Animal welfare has always been one of Officer Warren Lillie's passions. That, along with his extensive knowledge of animal care from his time as a K-9 handler, is the reason Lillie is often the first officer on the scene in cases of animal abuse, neglect, and cruelty.
So it's a good thing he was the first responding officer in one of the worst hoarding cases in the history of Ross Township, Penn., outside Pittsburgh. Lillie—a dog lover going back to his childhood best friend and the unmatchable friendship years later with his K-9 partner—arrived at the house on Sept. 11, 2019.
The call eventually led to a new member of his family, a pup named Chunk. But he first had to do his job.
"I was almost in shock, and I'm never shocked by anything I see," Lillie tells Daily Paws. "I've been through shootings, have almost been killed, dragged by cars ... and I was so taken aback. The ammonia levels in there were so high, a human wouldn't have been able to live more than a few hours in there."
Lillie got to work quickly rescuing as many animals as he could from the horrific neglect. Dogs were living in filth, packed shoulder to shoulder in a filthy living room. Lillie played a massive role in rescuing 117 from the residence. He worked his entire shift pulling dogs out and searching for more, even coming back when he was off duty to continue helping during the 10- to 12-hour rescue. Even when he was advised to take a break, he pressed on.
"I got a new oxygen tank like six times to keep going," Lillie says. "I couldn't just sit on the sidelines."
Lillie continued to help with the case even after all the dogs had been removed from the premises, overseeing the investigation and gathering more physical evidence for prosecutors. This rescue even inspired Lillie to recommend a program for animal abusers that educates them on animal cruelty, which has since been implemented in animal abuse cases.
In light of Lillie's contributions, Animal Friends, the humane organization that led the hoarding rescue, told Lillie it wanted to honor him by giving his family a dog who'd been removed from the crowded home. Though Lillie had no idea how he'd ever choose one to adopt—"They were all so cute!"—two separate people told him there was something special about a little herding dog named Chunk, who happened to be the first dog Lillie pulled from the building.
"He did turn out to be super special," Lillie says. "He's like a cartoon—so unique and funny. His eyes are so expressive, and he's so animated and engaged in everything. If he wants your attention he's going to get it."
After a few months of working through behaviors and anxiety related to his time in the hoarding house, Chunk "fell right in" with the family—including two other dogs named Boog and Ellie May—and stole their hearts, Lillie says. Meanwhile, Lillie continues to respond to animal abuse and neglect calls. Though the work can be heart-wrenching, he's glad to do it.
"I can be their voice in these situations," Lillie says. "I'm relentless, I'm going to make sure that animal who can't talk has a voice. I'm always going to be their advocate."