Like most nonprofit organizations, animal shelters must address large needs with little financial support. Unfortunately, that means that the least expensive option for communities is to euthanize homeless animals quickly. According to the ASPCA, 1.5 million domestic animals are euthanized each year; while that figure is down by more than a million since 2011, many communities simply do not have the resources to find permanent homes for all of the animals that come through their doors. This was the case for Taft, Texas, whose Animal Control office routinely euthanized animals each Wednesday to make room for more strays in their shelter.
Enter an unlikely hero: Kayla Denney, an accountant at L & F Distributors in Corpus Christi. When Denney took the reins of the Taft Animal Shelter in November of 2018, the facility didn’t even have electricity, much less an appropriate area for prospective pet owners to come spend time with the animals. In an astounding turn of events, under Denney’s leadership, the kill rate for the shelter went from 100% to zero in just one year. According to People.com, in the last year Denney’s efforts have saved 565 dogs and cats from certain death. All have been placed in permanent homes.
A Plan For Saving Lives
When Denney arrived at the Taft shelter, she realized she had her work cut out for her. Apart from the facility being sorely outdated and run down, she had no volunteers, no supplies, and no lights. She began an aggressive online campaign on her personal Facebook page to solicit supplies, coordinate fundraising, recruit volunteers, and find permanent homes for the strays. Her work as an accountant helped her quickly assess where to direct the small amount of funds the department received, and what needs were most critical.
While the Taft shelter still does not have a large online presence, Denney’s networking skills combined with the admiration of her colleagues in Taft raised her profile. In February of 2019, Denney found out she was one of five finalists — out of more than a thousand nominated — for the Petco Foundation’s Unsung Heroes award. The award recognizes community-based efforts to save animals from euthanasia and place them in permanent homes. The five finalists are awarded $10,000 grants for their organizations, and one of the five is selected for top honors and an additional $25,000 grant. In 2019, that finalist was Denney.
Time For A Change
As Denise Hitt, Taft’s city manager, explained to Petco, in terms of supplies the shelter only had what they referred to as “the blue juice,” the drug used to put the animals to sleep. Said Hitt, “The animals looked sad, the building looked sad, and so I decided that we were going to make a change.” Sherrif John Cornish relayed that he, Hitt, and other city employees had a dream of a no-kill shelter in Taft, and with Denney and Hiatt’s help, he hopes the shelter will continue to grow.
When the Petco Foundation posted news of Denney’s award to their Facebook page, the animal control officer’s fans outside of the great state of Texas posted more praises. Dog Is My Co-Pilot, Inc. in Wyoming commented, “Such an honor to meet Kayla in person. She is a rockstar life saver. Wonderful and heartwarming video! 💕🐾” And Beverly Anastasio commented, “Wow great story. Great woman. Dogs are safe now. Caring n loving. Great news!” As for Denney, her accounting days are behind her now as she works to build a future for the animals of Taft. On her personal Facebook page, she noted, “I’ve gotten hundreds (if not thousand plus) of messages from people asking how I do it – I have not been able to reply to a lot of the messages mainly because there is no easy explanation or simple formula. It takes a team. It takes dedication. It takes determination. It takes a will. It takes you. 💯💯”
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