A lab-mix puppy sat in the back of a cage filled with her litter mates at a dog shelter in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Among the wild, wiggling bodies, this one seemed timid and reserved. Her fur was matted, filthy with puppy muck and waste. Melinda Elliott noticed the little dog and asked for a towel so she could lift her out of the cage.

Melinda’s husband, Kit, was in a large play area sitting on the floor interacting with other puppies when Melinda walked in and sat the towel-wrapped puppy on the ground. The puppy ran straight to Kit and climbed into his lap.

In her book Rebarkable Lilly, Melinda describes the moment: “It was like a slow motion scene in a movie. The towel fell off just as she landed in Kit’s lap, and he turned up his nose and yelled, ‘Yuck!’… The little yellow puppy just stared up at him very calmly and quietly. The other puppies frolicked happily, glad to be out of their holding pens, but this little girl was quite ladylike, not leaving his lap.” Melinda and Kit found their dog.

While Melinda was paying the $50 pet adoption fee, Kit took the puppy to the sink for her first bath. With warm water flowing, Kit gently stroked the matted puppy, cleaning her fur and nurturing her soul. The little pup never took her eyes off of Kit. He later said to Melinda, “This dog is special, very special.”

From that day on, not only would Lilly get the attention she deserved, she became the center of attention wherever she would go. Of course, a dog wearing rhinestone sunglasses and a silk scarf tends to catch the eye.

Puppy perfection

At home with her new mom and dad, Lilly became joyful and confident. It helped that Melinda officed in an old house in downtown Plano, where Lilly spent most of her young days. Melinda recalls, “When we adopted Lilly, Kit would drop her off at my office every day. I couldn’t wait for lunch and breaks to be able to take her outside in the backyard and spend time with her. There was an advertising agency next door, and the women would come over every day and play with her. So she had constant engagement from a very young age.”

Melinda believes since Lilly spent so much time with her during her formative years, a strong bond was formed between them based on friendship and trust. Plus being around other people gave Lilly confidence and an outgoing personality.

“When I started bringing her to work, she uncovered who she was. She didn’t necessarily do what I wanted her to do—she did what she wanted to do,” Melinda laughs. Not only was Lilly a joy to have around the offices where Melinda worked, she also became an asset. For example as a recruiter, Melinda interviewed candidates for professional positions.

She explains, “People could come in my office, and instead of getting a handshake, they would get a paw-shake! That made them feel at ease. So when they sat down for the interview, I was able to see more about who they were because they were more comfortable.” Melinda began taking Lilly to office picnics and other outings, not realizing that was creating a branding campaign with Lilly as the visual.

By then, Melinda had also discovered another of Lilly’s hidden talents. She was a natural born fashion model.

Lilly’s model nature

One of Lilly’s first outings in costume was a carnival. She wore a blue jean halter top that belonged to Melinda. With the addition of eyelet lace around the hem, the shirt became a dress. Melinda then tied a red bandana around Lilly’s neck, put a headband sporting Pippy Longstocking-style pigtails on her head, plopped on a cowboy hat, and she became Hillbilly Lilly. She was the hit of the carnival.

That early experience unleashed Melinda’s creativity and Lilly’s inner super model. It’s hard to upstage effervescent Melinda, but if anyone can, it’s Lilly! So Melinda decided to make Lilly part of her marketing efforts. As she explains in her book, she started by photographing Lilly in seasonal attire to match her marketing messages with upcoming holidays.

Then she expanded the themes of her recruiting campaigns to situational scenes featuring Lilly: “Drive Your Career in a Positive Direction,” “Rolling in the Dough,” and “Take Your Career from the Outhouse to the Penthouse”…a nod to Lilly’s own early start in life. To this day, when Lilly goes out on the town or to an event, you can bet she is dressed from head to toe…to tail. Now 13 years old, she has worn everything from a pink construction hat with safety goggles to black sequined party gowns. Many of her outfits are people clothes that have been custom-fitted for her. Evidently it’s not easy finding cute outfits for big gals at local pet stores. “Tiny girls get all the love and fashion,” Melinda jokes.

Lilly is so popular, that she was featured on WFAA Channel 8 last year. In February, she was a special guest at the prestigious South Arkansas Kennel Club Dog Show, where the same judges from the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show were present. Although not a show dog, Lilly walked around as proud as any dog in the arena—and gathered a much larger crowd.

Kit recalls, “All the kids, and even adults, would get down on the floor and love on Lilly. They couldn’t touch the other dogs because the handlers had them all sprayed and ready for the show. So here our $50 dog, a mutt, was getting more attention than the dogs that cost thousands of dollars. But this dog has brought us so much joy, so much love, so many wonderful memories… you can’t put a price on that.”

And that’s really the message Melinda and Kit want to spread. Melinda shares, “What we’re hoping is that this book will encourage people to go to the shelter and adopt a pet. Look at what happened when we went!” She is a family member,” Kit says. “And a business partner,” adds Melinda.

Kit reasons, “There are many wonderful dogs out there that can make your home a better place. Make your home a happier place. Make you a happier person.” And if you do get a dog,” Melinda implores, “don’t just throw it in the backyard. If you engage with them, they can become such great dogs.

They don’t have to wear sunglasses or clothes from your closet,” she laughs, “but just engage with them and you’ll be amazed at what kind of dog you can have.”

To learn more about Lilly, visit www.rebarkablecreations.com.

Melinda’s book Rebarkable Lilly: From the Doghouse to the Penthouse is available on Amazon.

Cindy Boykin

Cindy Boykin has been writing for Plano Profile since 1997, serving as managing editor since 2005. A graduate of Texas A&M University with a master’s in journalism from the University of North Texas,...