Thursday, September 01, 2016

FEATURE STORY >> A different breed

Leader staff writer

 A chorus of barking dogs greets all visitors long before entering the Jacksonville Animal Shelter on Redmond Road. It’s endless and loud, laughs Hedy Wuelling, the shelter’s manager. It’s her usual qualifier that immediately follows every “Hello.”

Wuelling is dressed in a dark blue department-issued jumpsuit, making her tall, lean frame appear even more so, topped off with a sparkle in her eye that rarely fades.

And even though she’s a professional caterer, an accomplished furniture maker and enjoys needlepoint, she loves to talk about the animals and the shelter. These days, she says she has little time to pursue outside interests, so the conversation quickly circles back to the animals.

Her boss, Jimmy Oakley, Jacksonville’s public works director, says, “I’m lucky to have her, so is the city. She’s ethical, driven, has a passion for the animals and does a superb job. She always goes above and beyond. She’s super woman.”

Twelve-year dispatch employee Kerrie Henderson is fond of Wuelling and says, “I wouldn’t have another boss. I don’t think anyone else would care as much about the animals as she does.”

Behind the shelter’s foyer, receptionist desk and a few offices are rows of cages. The cats are separated from the dogs and the short timers from the pit bulls. Gentle or not, a Jacksonville ordinance prohibits adoption of this breed by  individuals. There are at least 11 waiting for a permanent shelter designed to house pits to take them in and another two are part of court cases, but meanwhile it takes money to feed and care for these dogs.

The pits take up a sizable portion of the shelter’s 32 cages so this meant that earlier in the week, as a large number of strays came in, the shelter was starting to experience overcrowding, but the word went out and Wuelling says, “We did really great this week. We took in 28 dogs and adopted out 27.”

Along with pit bulls, black dogs—even playful and family-friendly labs and pure breeds—are hard to place in homes.

“People just don’t want them,” she says. It’s so common in the animal rescue business that they call it, “Black Dog Syndrome.”

Black animals don’t photograph well and perhaps seem older than their lighter counterpart and most people want younger ones, Wuelling says. Black cats are usually passed over as well.

But that doesn’t mean Wuelling and her crew will put a healthy animal down; instead they post pictures on their website, hoping to find the animal a home.

“It might take a little longer,” she says. Again, costing the shelter extra money.


The city’s animal shelter is unique among many in Arkansas and Wuelling has a goal, she wants to make it a no-kill shelter, but that’s expensive.

Still, since taking over in 2008, she has drastically reduced the annual number of animals euthanized. It used to be that a dog or cat only stayed at a shelter for a few days, and if an owner didn’t show up or if it wasn’t adopted quickly, the animal was put down.

She also became a U.S. citizen in 2008.

As a reminder of the old days, the kill ovens are still standing behind the shelter but are no longer operational.

Since Wuelling has taken over the shelter, the numbers of dogs killed dropped from more than 650 a year to about 150. The number of cats euthanized also dropped.

For the first five months of this year, zero animals were put down, Wuelling says.

“We’ve made changes little by little,” she says.

So far, she managed to make it a “low-kill” shelter that reflects a growing trend of a more humane treatment of animals, she says. As well, people are willing to adopt mixed breeds, and people from northern states where there are fewer animals for adoption are eager to take in southern animals.

“We working hard to become a no-kill shelter,” then Wuelling adds, “If you want something, you can make it possible.”

And like her dad, Henk De Jong, says, “Just do it.”

So she is.


Wuelling’s work and her philosophy are the reasons Christine Henderson of Jacksonville, no relation to Kerrie Henderson, is volunteering her time, talent and money to the animal shelter.

Prior to setting up and operating the Jacksonville Friends of the Animals Facebook page, a support organization, she sat on the Pulaski County Humane Society Board of Directors. So far, the Friends website has attracted nearly 10,000 fans.

Christine Henderson also photographs the animals who are up for adoption at the shelter in hopes of finding each a home.

Often the animal is gone the day after it appears on their webpage.

The Friends’ page replaced Pet Angels in 2014, and the nonprofit raises money to help purchase meds and pay vet bills.

They’ve manage to raise about $40,000 a year, that mainly goes to pay vet bills, Henderson says.

“It takes an entire community to have a no-kill shelter,” Wuelling emphasizes.
Wuelling says with the Friends’ help, she’s able to be more frugal with the city’s money.

Their animal operating budget is about $250,000 and they’re often dealing with as many as 75 dogs and cats at a time.

She has three animal control officers, one kennel worker and one part-time weekend worker. The department has a facility and dog play area at 217 South Redmond Road, and three animal control vehicles.

Jack Henderson, who also donates his time and talents to the shelter, agrees with his wife, Christine Henderson, saying, “Hedy is wonderful and has a huge heart. She is devoted to the animals.”

They both respect what Wuelling has accomplished, says Christine Henderson.

So much so that they donated a mobile unit and generator to the shelter. It cost about $18,000 and allows staff to take their animals to various events. People get a chance to see the dogs and cats and adopt them without visiting the shelter.

When Daniel Dominguez, former Air Force, of Cabot signed up for classes at ASU Beebe, he was required to do community service as part of a class assignment so he decided to volunteer at the Jacksonville Animal Shelter.

“I’ve been here before and it’s clean, a lot cleaner than most other shelters…The dogs are treated well,” he explains while playing with a blonde lab named Marley.

Oakley says, “We have several volunteers who dig deep and help when needed…We appreciate them all.”


Wuelling grew up in Holland and her father bred and trained dogs, including German Shepherds for police units and dog shows around Europe.

“I watched lots of dogs compete.”

She, in turn raised, mastiffs.

“They appealed to me and they’re lovable,” Wuelling says about the dog breed made famous in movies like “Sandlot,” “Harry Potter,” and “Turner and Hooch.” Technically, Hooch was a French mastiff.

Like her father, she also competed, and when pressed, Wuelling says, “I did pretty well.

She also was a caterer before coming to the United States.

Both Wuelling and Henderson, who is originally from England, say that in Europe and the United Kingdom, dogs are treated like members of the family.

“They go on vacation,” Henderson says.

Wuelling adds, “They’re welcome in many restaurants.”

Getting rid of a pet is almost unheard of, Henderson says.

It’s different in the U.S., they both agree.

Her childhood and the culture she grew up in, influenced how she sees and treats animals, Wuelling says. That influences the decisions she makes at the shelter.

In 2002, Wuelling spent a few months in the United States but didn’t officially move to this country until late 2003. While visiting for the first time, she volunteered at the shelter and after moving to Arkansas, she went to work for Oakley in 2004.

He says, “She’s done wonders with the shelter and for the animals. I’m proud of her adoption rates and accomplishments.”

Wuelling says the shelter is a perfect fit for her, “I love it.”