HERO - Denise Watson
For Denise Watson, working at the City of Hot Springs Animal Services shelter is more than a job, it’s become her life’s passion and purpose.
Having grown up on a ranch in contact with horses, dogs and goats, she’s been involved with animals her whole life. She has directed this affection to the animals at the shelter since 2013, barring a year in which she returned to her home state of California. Meaningful work, yes; but Watson admits it comes with hefty challenges.
“We come in on weekends and on holidays to take care of the animals. The dogs and cats don’t know when it’s a weekend day,” she said with a smile.
Every day starts with a complete cleaning of the shelter, from the cages in the back up to the front lobby. “Eddy, Travis and I clean the whole facility before lunch, then we help people find the right pet. We talk them into it,” she admitted.
For a shelter that sees anywhere from 15-20 incoming canines a day, that type of helpful convincing is imperative (for pets’ sake). When asked about the most challenging part of working at the shelter, being that animals that are not or cannot be adopted have to be put down, she said “it takes a toll.”
“But somebody has to do it, and it might as well be someone who is compassionate about it rather than someone who treats this as ‘just a job.’ This is more than a job,” she explained.
Anyone who has found Denise on Facebook (“Denise Drop Watson”) can see how much her work means to her. What began as a way for her to try and connect lost pets to their owners has turned into an online community of animal welfare enthusiasts.
Watson used Hot Springs Lost & Found and Garland County Lost & Found before she turned her personal Facebook profile into another outlet for the animals.
“I just started posting them and got hundreds of friend requests from people I don’t even know. It’s amazing how much our community shares the animal posts,” she said.
She tries to post photos and information about dogs on the same day they arrive at the shelter. “A lot of people don’t even know the Animal Services shelter is here, and they may look for their lost pet for months.”
Beyond her daily duties at the shelter and her online advocacy efforts, Watson has also gotten her hands dirty with some construction and remodeling at the shelter. She redid the entire ceiling with new tiles that she measured, cut and put up. She also recently completed a one-on-one room where prospective pet owners can spend time outside of the kennels with a pet they are considering for adoption.
Watson requested the opportunity to clean out what was once a room for surgery before becoming storage. It took months for her to transform the space, but now guests can spend one-on-one time any time of the year and in any weather. The room features artificial turf, benches and a window so employees can check in as needed.
Visitors for the Animal Service’s 2nd Annual Home for the Holidays event from 6-9 p.m. on December 13 will not only get to see and use the one-on-one room, they will enjoy holiday decorations, hot cocoa and cookies and half-price adoptions of $27.50 for dogs and $17.50 for cats (which includes spay and neuter, microchip and rabies vaccine).
Despite her efforts, Watson tends to deflect recognition or praise. “The people I work with are amazing. We are a great team, and it takes an army to run this place.”