CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — You can find every dog’s best friend here in small town, USA.
Kayla Denney has devoted her career to saving every dog’s life that she can, and for that she's being awarded the 2019 National "Unsung Hero" Award by Petco.
She's brought the animal shelter in Taft, Texas, near Corpus Christi, from almost a 100% kill rate all the way down to 0%. Since she took over last November, each dog that has passed through here has found a forever home.
“As of November 1st, we have saved 565 dogs and cats out of Taft,” she said.
Denney is flying out to San Diego, Calif., to accept her award, an honor she says she knew nothing about.
“There are thousands of applicants. I didn't know I was nominated,” said Denney. “I became the 2019 unsung hero for the country. ... It still just blows my mind that that's still a thing.”
The award is for her lifesaving efforts that have made a difference in Taft.
Out of thousands of nominees, Denney made the top 5 in February and was awarded $10,000.
Now that she's won first place, she’s getting an extra $25,000.
It’s money she says will go directly to helping improve the conditions of the Taft animal shelter.
“It’s an older shelter, and it's run down,” said Denney. “We got lights thanks to a donor who put in electricity for us, but I want indoor outdoor kennels with a guillotine in between so when it’s raining we can put them inside.”
“We want an area where they can have meet and greet out in the field and somewhere they can have grass time rather than just cement time.”
Denney has big plans for the shelter. But she says she can't do it without maintaining the community's support.
She hopes the Unsung Hero Award is just a minor step in the long walk to continued success.
WINNERS: 2019 St. Louis Post-Dispatch Cutest Pet Contest
selected by our readers
🏆 First place cat: Gingy
Ginger is the silliest and most dramatic cat. Her name fits her personality purrrfectly!
Melissa Mautner, O'Fallon, Missouri
🏆 First place dog: Boris
Hi I’m Boris! I am a 2 year old rescue with fur made of velvet. I love playing with my log, snuggling my kitty sisters, and blotting my wet lips on your leg. Also, ball is life. Vote for me!
Alexandra Bardon, St. Charles
🏆 First place critter: Jasper the Prairie Dog
Jasper is my most treasured pet. He loves his carrots and kisses....but most of all he loves his belly rubs.
Jillian Sheeley, St. Louis
selected by Post-Dispatch staff
🏆 Second place cat: Poe
We rescued our little Poe from underneath our shed one day when we heard little meows during the pouring rain. He has changed our lives since and we love taking him on biking adventures and hikes with us. He is the sweetest thing who will lick your nose and cuddle all night. He will also will steal your food when you are not looking! We are so happy to be his forever home.
Jacqueline Brown, St. Louis
🏆 Second place dog: Louie
This is Louie. He is a Papillon. He weighs four pounds. He is definitely small but mighty. He doesn’t let his size stop him from doing anything. He never meets a stranger.
Michelle Laratta, Fenton
🏆 Second place critter: Charlotte
Charlotte is a 4 year old Juliana pig, she’s a house pet and loves relaxing on the sofa and belly rubs. Her favorite foods are Cheerios and grapes.
Clara Ryan, Warrenton
selected by Post-Dispatch staff
🏆 Third place cat: Oscar
Oscar loves watching the St. Louis Blues on tv, drinking from faucets, hanging out in boxes and playing with the dogs.
Andrea Veach, St. Louis
🏆 Third place dog: River
River is an adorable Brittany pup who loves spending time with her humans, swimming at the lake, and chasing birds all day long! Her freckles melt hearts ❤️.
Rachel Schwarzkopf, Shiloh, Illinois
🏆 Third place critter: Lizzie
Lizzie is a four year old feisty ferret.
Stacey Hawkins, St. Louis
Stevie is a Wonder!
This is Stevie Peepers. He is blind but it doesn't slow him down one bit! He was saved by Tenth Life Cat Rescue. They prioritize cats with special needs. He is special indeed!
Jennifer Nitchman, St. Louis
Jersey's Glamor Shot
Jersey is a four year old calico cat who loves scratchers, catnip toys and naps!
Cate Perry, Crystal City
Luna was rescued from a kill shelter as a 5 month feral kitten, thought to be too old to socialize. My friends and I learned about helping feral kittens from YouTube and after months of patience, she learned to trust. Although she still cannot be picked up, there is nowhere I can go without her as my shadow and she easily jumps up in any lap with a blanket on it. She has taught me lessons of patience and trust and has the loudest purr on the planet!
Mary Taylor, Maplewood
Jax is a rescue kitty. He is perfect. He is fun, loving and loves his scratching post! He is not declawed I clip his nails. He runs to the front door if the doorbell rings . I have a little stand just for him to look out the window of the front door in case we have a new greeter. We love him, he loves us and our grandchildren.
Ruth Scheidegger, St. Charles
Having spent most of her life around 2 dogs, Iris is basically a dog in a cat’s body at this point. She loves to cuddle, play, and complain when the food is empty.
Clint Paes, O'Fallon, Missouri
Edwin: Chilling out, watching the Cardinals
Edwin was adopted from Open Door 7 years ago. He is a total love bug who makes me laugh every day.
Suzanne Cavagna, St. Louis
This is our 3 year old fluff ball. He’s so sweet.
Jamie Klingler, Collinsville
Walter loves snuggling on the couch but sometimes the lights are just too bright for nap time!
Jessica Schmitt, St. Louis
James Ear Hair Jones
This is James Ear Hair Jones on the first day I met him. I pulled him from a feral cat colony I was working to TNR. He was 5 weeks old, and has never had interaction with a human. He had baby kitten hisses for about 20 seconds, then purred and was snuggly for the last two years. The best part? He still has that precious kitten face. 😻
Karen Smith, St. Louis
Peggy (Pegs) is a cuddle bug. Always wanting to be right up on your chest purring away. She loves to play with wand toys (only green and blue) and loves to make biscuits in peoples hair. She is so smart, just like her namesake.
Abagael Baldwin. University City
She is a princess, wears a unicorn collar with the cutest meow and everybody just loves her:)
Jen Weber, St. Louis
Yugo is the sweetest little cuddle bug on the planet. He loves to explore, get pets, and knock stuff off shelves.
Lucy Bowe, Clayton
Maysey is a 4 year old purrty girl. She has super soft fur and loves her ears rubbed. Enjoys taunting her 3 "dog" siblings, just because she is faster than they are...and cuter!!!
Sherri Hilmes, Collinsville
Mr. Theo Little: Always engaged in conversation of the room!
Theo was a rescue kitty from an abandoned boat he could fit in our one hand, now three years later very spoiled and human-like! Lol!
Patrick Williams, Ellisville
Sergei was adopted from the Animal Protective Association three years ago. He is five years old and enjoys watching birds outside, playing in boxes, and head rubs.
Eyad Naseralla, St. Louis
Tempest was rescued by Snuggle Rescue Group when she was three weeks old and adopted by her owners at 4 months. She has since come to rule the manor.
Christine Aubuchon, St. Charles
Benjamin aka Benji
Benji was adopted from the Humane Society. He loves to purr and always wants to be held. He’s the best!
Alexander Schwartzkopf, St. Louis
Thelma Jane is a one of a kind, 2 year old costume loving cat who is ready for any occasion. Her closet is full of dresses, nightgowns, hoodies, and Cardinals jerseys just to name a few. Oh & let's not forget the leg warmers purrfect for an 80s night.
Kelsey O'Keefe, St. Charles
Hey world, I’m Tux. I had a bad hair day today so don’t mind me. My other siblings Cortana and Ping entered the completion too but you can ignore their pictures because I am cuter and fluffier.
Gaby Colvis, Lake St. Louis
Parnell was born in 2011 and dumped at a local rescue in 2013 after an eye injury. I saw him online and knew he was for me. He's been my best friend ever since.
Jaime Shelton, St. Peters
Clementine - our photogenic one year old with a big personality.
Elizabeth Smart, St. Louis
Finlay is a 2-year old Goldendoodle who was born blind. He is intelligent and very affectionate and doesn’t let his blindness stop him. He keeps his tennis balls in his food dish so he always knows where they are!
Debbie Worn, St. Charles
Mr. Rocky Cornelius Koch
This sweet boy can always pose for picture when there is food around. He has quite the personality to be around. Besides snacks he loves his mom and dad more than anything. Always makes friends wherever he goes and naps on Sundays.
Ashley Koch, Moscow Mills
Koda is a 5 month old mini Aussie. She loves to play outside with tennis balls, soccer balls, and hockey pucks. She is sassy and loves people!
Courtney Mallett, Cedar Hill
Crosby the Cocker
Crosby is an American Cocker Spaniel. He is the best companion a person could have. He’s a mommas boy and rarely leaves me side. He loves to sing when his brother is playing the trumpet. They practice together frequently. He loves to sleep, cuddle and if he isn’t by his momma you can find him anywhere the food is. He has a love for all foods that YOU’RE eating and Dislikes all dog dog food. He is WAY too sophisticated to drink out of a dog bowl, so he drinks out of a human glass, because he thinks he is human. He is 40lb of pure love but thinks he’s still 10lbs and enjoys sleeping on your neck and face. He has zero sense of personal space. He takes his mom to the bathroom to potty inside because, well she takes him outside to do the same. He’s an excellent guard dog, chasing away the local “criminals” such as the Fed Ex, Plumber, and The Amazon guy. He protects his home to the absolute fullest! He’s the king of “side eye” 👀 and dirty looks. If you decide you need to leave the house for an appointment, he will show them to you and cuss you off when you return. I wouldn’t trade him for anything in the world!
Jennifer Faust, Wentzville
Frankie: Loving the dog friendly beaches of Cape San Blas, Florida!
Frankie is our 4 year old Chocolate Labrador Retriever. This is his 8th time to Cape San Blas, FL and he loves swimming in the beautiful Gulf of Mexico.
Ellen Venturella-Wilson, St. Louis
Palmer is an 18 month old Coton De Tulear Pup! She loves cuddles, socializing, walks, ice cubes and posing for the camera!
Sarah Hippe, St. Charles
Buddy the lap dog
Buddy is a 6-year-old lab mix. We rescued him about two years ago. He has been a wonderful addition to our family. He loves to eat, go for walks, chase lizards and more than anything else he loves to cuddle.
Dianne Reyland, O'Fallon, Missouri
Louie is calm, relaxed curious 6 month old puppy who loves to snuggle. He is very social and loves going anywhere and almost everywhere with his family!
Lisa McAteer, Weldon Spring
Maggie is a half poodle, half terrier that is smart and extremely friendly and social. At doggie day care she makes sure to play well with everyone!
Pam Ray, Sullivan
Rosie is a Whoodle, part Wheaten Terrier and part Poodle. She loves to run, jump and play with every dog and person she meets! Her soft hair and big brown eyes keeps her mom and dad tightly wrapped around her paw!
Christa Warner, St. Louis
Toasti is a one of a kind Frenchie. She LOVES to play ball.
Jenn Rogers, Eureka
#1 Cardinals Fans
Portly is a 2 year old English bulldog who loves to nap and meet new people. Presley is a 1 year old Boston Terrier who loves getting into mischief and cuddling.
Kate Koenig, St. Charles
Hamish and Lilly
Lilly (right) is the long-suffering, responsible older sister. Her favorite hobbies include walkies in Benton Park and a good chew on the couch. Hamish (left) is a hare-brained little dude who prefers to spend his day eating remotes and running headlong into furniture during his frequent zoomies.
Lauren Christiansen, St. Louis
A friend of mine from grade school was working at a shelter in Texas and she posted a picture of him. I made the comment "If only you delivered to Missouri." Someone else commented they would bring him to me if I could wait 3 weeks. Of course I said yes!!! He was about a year and a half old. Come this December he will be with me 5 years. I'm really not sure if I rescued him or he rescued me...just know I'm truly blessed to have him in my life.
Karen Roussin, Camdenton
Lila is an 11YO Yorkie who loves taking rides in her puppy stroller and drinking cold Brita water! She loves kids, The Blues, and sleeps about 23 hours each day. Sweetest girl I know!
Anastasia Adams, St. Louis
My name is Musial and my mom and tell me I am full of personality.
Karen Weeke, O'Fallon, Missouri
Maggie’s first 'trim'
Maggie is our 4 year-old Westie. She loves everybody...unless you’re a squirrel!! 🐾🐿.
Gus Baldi, St. Louis
Beau and Djuna
This is Beau, our St. Bernard and lab mix helping our pet chick, Djuna get a higher view. Though Djuna is a city backyard chicken, we keep her inside until she is big enough to live in the coop. Beau loves all creatures, big and small.
Allie Cundiff, St. Louis
Zoey was rescued at a week old, her mom and sibling were deceased and she was thriving to stay alive. Her foster mother had to bottle feed her every 2 hours, they didn’t think she was going to make it, but this amazing puppy fought hard and made it. I followed her progress and I just felt it in my heart that I wanted her and it has been the best decision. She is so smart so loving and so amazing. 🐶💗
Diane Slyman, St. Louis
Peanut the Longdog
A dachshund through and through, he's hilariously stubborn, fiercely loyal and will knock your toddler over in the pursuit of a tennis ball. His breath smells like hot trash in summer, but his kisses are the best.
Jessy Lobel, St. Louis
We lost our beloved dog Buddy and swore we would never go through that heartache again. Then Barkley showed up. You would never believe the poor shape he was in. A month later we are proud to show off the dog that rescued us.
Charles Lowe, New Athen, Illinois
Jerry: 'I’m really listening Mom!'
Jerry is a rescue that we got from the Humane Society a little over a year ago. We were interested to learn his breed so we did DNA testing. He came back many different breeds, all combined to make one perfect pet for us.
Pat Harkins, Florissant
Munchkin giving the barn cats some lovin'!
Munchkin was orphaned at birth so she grew up on fresh goats milk and hung out with the barn cats all day. She is now full grown and has a calf of her own. She still gets regular massages and lots of attention from us. :)
Sonya Masterson, Protem, Missouri
Bobbi Rose: Lil' Ms. Congeniality
Meet Bobbi Rose. She loves to go bye-bye and tends to charm everyone she meets. But don't let that innocent face fool you. She's quite the mischief maker and is a wee bit naughty... but aren't we all?
Karen Tabaka, St. Louis
Lulu is our Bunny Diva adopted from the Missouri House Rabbit Society in Fenton. She is a true Diva - very demanding, expecting feedings at her command and lots of treats including Bunny Biscotti. She loves ear and chin rubs!
Sallie Hancox, Union
Snickers: Snack Time
This is Snickers. He was recently adopted from the Humane Society. In few weeks he's been in his new home, he has learned that if he hears sounds coming from the kitchen, that means a snack might be coming and will do a little piggy whistle.
Alison Candy, Fenton
Playboy Dylan, always watching
Dylan is about an 8 year old gelding Quarter Horse. He is as sweet as they come but also so curious.
Jamie Heberlein, Wentzville
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