When Denise Jones started working with the Woodstock Animal Foundation, a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in Lexington, she had no idea what a hemostat was, and fainted when she saw her first surgery.
That was in 1997, and “I’ve learned so much since then,” she says.
One of the founders of Woodstock, she initially used her business degree to jumpstart the program, working behind the scenes. But it wasn’t long before she started working directly with the animals to get them spayed and neutered. Though she now considers herself “just” a volunteer with Woodstock, she’s definitely a driving force in the organization.
“I’ve learned that, to make good decisions, you have to be out there doing the work,” she says. “You can’t understand this business of saving lives, of being a voice for those who cannot speak, of juggling so much more than can be conceivably possible unless you do every aspect of the work.
“I actually feel blessed to be able to do what I love. How may folks can truly say they love what they do?”
Denise’s small stature belies her frenzied activity, practically living in the Woodstock van transporting animals, and constantly on the phone organizing foster parents, animals to be pulled from kill shelters, and arranging for vets across the state to help with the surgeries.
Woodstock was begun to help pet owners on low or fixed incomes. Often, owners are able to care for their pets on a day-to-day basis, but lack the funds to spay or neuter, or get their routine vaccinations. Woodstock offers owners a low-cost way to keep their pets healthy and help prevent pet overpopulation.
Dr. Ed Wimpy works full time at the clinic doing the surgeries. Previously a vet for cattle, he says his work here “isn’t necessarily easier than doing cattle, but it’s certainly different.”
Dr. Wimpy has been with the clinic for several years, and is proud of the work Woodstock has accomplished.
“We were among the pioneers of low-cost spay/neuter clinics. We work at spreading the word about the necessity of altering pets, the health benefits, and try to help people take good care of their pets.”
But Woodstock has grown to be more than a clinic. Believing that there is a home out there for every dog and cat, Denise has expanded into animal adoption. Her goal—a lofty one—is that there be no more euthanasia in Kentucky. She pulls animals from “death row” at various shelters, places them with volunteers and foster parents, gets them altered, then offers them for adoption. She has a huge network of contacts across the state, using them to place these animals.
And it works. “I once adopted out five animals from the Danville shelter, just standing there in the aisle and working the phone,” she says with a grin. “With that one visit, we were able to keep five animals from being euthanized.”
The goal of lowering the rate of animal euthanasia is a high priority. Tammy Edington, who has worked with Woodstock for four years, is passionate about saving these otherwise doomed animals.
“The problem is that shelters are considered a ‘dumping ground’ for pets,” she says. “There’s no consequence for the people who are abandoning their animals, and lots of times there’s not even a need to give up a pet.”
Tammy would like more owners to understand that much of the time, owners could keep their pets if they look for ways to do so.
“We want to help people keep their pets, and we’ll help in any way we can. You may not have to give up your pet if you’re moving—look for a way to take your pet with you. If your dog has behavioral issues, find a trainer rather than abandon your pet. So many times, what seems to be a hopeless situation can be resolved, and we’ll help owners with that.”
A dog named Speck is a case in point. Speck was a three-legged pit bull mix who started having “issues” as he grew up. Pits are notoriously difficult to place, so Denise and Tammy were determined to make this adoption work.
“All it took was a little effort by the owners,” Tammy says. “They put up an 8-foot-tall fence, and got a trainer to help with Speck. They were great owners, willing to go to the ends of the earth for this dog.”
A unique aspect of Woodstock is their mobile spay/neuter program. At the request of a county shelter or humane society, a specially equipped van serves as a clinic in remote locations. With so few spay/neuter clinics in Kentucky, it’s another way to educate the public.
“Not only do we get a lot more animals altered, with the mobile van we can show interested groups how they can start up their own spay/neuter program,” Tammy notes. “That’s our goal, not to just do their animals, but show them how to get their own clinic started.”
A common theme among the people who work with Woodstock is their dedication. As spokesperson, Denise says she may be the spark, but “The people are the real fire here. Without them, none of this would be possible.” She speaks highly of Sharon Hurd, the clinic’s vet tech and office manager: “Sharon has been with us from the beginning, and she’s never missed a beat.”
Denise also gives lots of credit to volunteers Jessica Robertson and Rick Oelze. “They have made many mobile spay days very successful due to their commitment to being at the spay day for the 10-14 hours we are at them, and also making sure everything we need for the spay day is on the van and ready to go. They too are extraordinary people.”
Foster parents play a huge role at Woodstock. Peggy Beard, of Simpsonville, began by taking in a Katrina dog that was under Woodstock’s care, and has fostered about 50 animals since then. “I try to do my part,” she says, “but that’s the beauty—and the curse—of this organization, that it stays so busy!”
Kristyn Williams works primarily at Woodstock adoption sites—two PetSmart locations in the Louisville area and Metzger’s Country Store in Simpsonville. But she also fosters a number of cats in her Waddy home.
“Woodstock is pretty much my life, and it’s a labor of love,” she says. Many of her fosters are special-needs cats that have either physical or medical challenges.
“Some of my cats are what I call perma-fosters: they will be with me til the day they die. For the others, I’ve partitioned off special sections, such as a senior ward and a nursery. I guess I’m part foster, part sanctuary.”
Between the clinic and mobile van, Woodstock alters up to 10,000 animals a year—that means a lot of help from vets.
One such vet is Dr. Teresa Gregory in Crestwood, who provides medical consults as well as surgery.
“I do this because I want to make a difference, to help end pet overpopulation. Growing up I saw firsthand the suffering that can result from an overpopulation of pets coupled with disregard for their welfare. I want to help change that, one pet, one surgery at a time.”
Dr. Stephanie Pollett of Louisville serves as the vet at many of the clinic’s spay days at area shelters, as well as at vaccination clinics in Lexington.
“I want to help reduce the pet overpopulation problem, reduce the need for euthanasia in shelters simply because animals are unwanted, and to encourage RESPONSIBLE breeding practices, eliminating hereditary problems and unwanted litters. I think the Woodstock Animal Foundation is a wonderful organization. They have a high standard of care for all of the animals, a tremendous volunteer and foster care network, and a dedicated leader in Denise Jones. I am proud to have the opportunity to work with this organization and help animals that otherwise may never have any veterinary care. “
Community support has been important to Woodstock, also. Charlie Metzger, who owns Metzger’s Country Store in Simpsonville, has operated an adoption site in the store for dogs and cats for the past year and a half. Charlie has been coached by Denise and Tammy in how to make a good match between an owner and an animal.
“I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping these animals, it just makes you feel good to see an animal go to a good home,” he says. And it’s made for many touching memories, he says, particularly the time he arranged a puppy adoption with a little girl’s parents, then dressed as Santa Claus and presented the puppy to the little girl.
“Now, there’s a Christmas she’ll always remember,” he says happily.
What has been the key to Woodstock’s success stories? Denise says it’s because “We’re very resourceful people, and we’re always communicating. Our mantra is ‘help one more, help one more.’ We have an undying spirit, that’s what has kept so many animals alive.”
A day of rescue
As part of my research for this story, I spent a day with Denise at the Woodstock clinic. While I assumed I would get to observe some surgeries—which I did—I expected I would mostly observe the activity of the clinic from a corner, out of the way.
That was not the case.
I’m not sure how it happened, but within minutes I found myself in a whirlwind of answering the phones, scheduling surgeries, weighing cats, giving worm medication, organizing syringes with vaccine, filling out surgery forms, checking on recovering animals, and desperately trying to remember which kittens went with which mamma cat.
The surgeries themselves were like an assembly line of dogs and cats. Dr. Wimpy and Sharon were incredibly efficient—I couldn’t believe how many spays and neuters they did just that one day.
And it was so easy to fall in love. By the end of the day, all the cats Denise and I had brought in were awake and bright-eyed, ready to return to a local shelter where they would spend the night before being returned to their owner. All, that is, except for one tiny kitten, who wouldn’t wake up. No one was too concerned, saying that the odd cat takes awhile to wake up, but it frightened me to see her lying there, so helpless.
“Well, if you’re that worried, why don’t you take her home for the night?” said Denise, smiling indulgently. So I did.
And late that night, I was awakened by an indignant screeching, a tiny girl wanting to know what had happened to her supper.
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