‘Unsung hero’: Petco Foundation honors woman for bringing shelter kill rate from 100 percent down to 0

A Texas woman received $35,000 and will be honored by the Petco Foundation for her dedication to a rundown animal shelter where she dropped the kill rate from 100 percent to zero.

Kayla Denney left her job in accounting and human resources to pursue her passion for animals. She agreed to lead the City of Taft Animal Control Department, according to the Petco Foundation, and she had her work cut out for her.

“The shelter looked like a very hot mess. I didn’t have any support system set up. There’s no volunteers really here. We didn’t have a Facebook page,” she said.

Denise Hitt, Taft city manager, said before Denney came in the shelter had a very limited budget, no electricity and one hose to wash out the kennels. They also had what she called “the blue juice,” which was used to euthanize animals.

Chief of Police John Cornish said every Wednesday was a “kill day” but that he and Hitt had a dream of making the shelter a no-kill facility. That’s when they met Denney and their vision started to come to life.“Kayla immediately made connections with fosters, rescues – anybody that she knew,” Hitt said.

Within five months, Denney brought the kill rate from 100 percent down to zero, according to Hitt.

“She has plenty of volunteers so the animals are not just locked up for 24 hours a day. They go out, they get walked,” Hitt said. “(Kayla) truly has a vision of where she wants the shelter to go. If you have a vision then you’re going to have results.”

Cornish said Denney goes out of her way to make sure the animals find their forever homes and are treated with care. She’s also helped people in the community understand how to better care for their pets.

“Here in Taft, they’re really starting to see that I am not here to pick up their animals and take them away. I’m here to make sure the animal is taken care of but so is the person with the animal,” Denney said.

Her hard work and dedication helped turn the shelter around and it gained her the nomination for the Petco Foundation’s Unsung Hero award. The award honors people whose “commitment and story of dedication exemplifies their love for animals.”

In February, she won $10,000 when she became one of five finalists for the Unsung Hero award. Now that she’s won the honor, she will receive $25,000 more that she said will go toward the shelter.

The award ceremony will be held on Nov. 14 in San Diego.