Pet Advocate Takes Top Honors at Conference
Michelle: Congratulations on being named Woman of the Year by Women in the Pet Industry Network. What was your reaction when you won?
Darleen: As for words, shocked, amazed, blessed. These three words come to mind. I almost backed out of going because it is so hard to leave what I do behind. I worry about the babies trusted to my care and posting a photo that I am in Portland seemed like I was just having fun not working. I have read stories about different dog events, expos, etc. in the pet magazines and I have wanted to be in the same room with people who work with and love animals like I do.
I cannot believe it took me 30 years to finally get to a conference. It was so amazing meeting everyone there who loved what they do as much as I do. From the second I walked in the room, until the minute I left, I was just amazed. The funny thing is that each woman I met who was sharing their passion for what they do, I felt like I had known them for years. I kept getting goose bumps with every new story.
Yes, I admit I was way out of my comfort zone with trying to get the perfect outfit to wear, but after meeting these ladies, I knew I could just be me, and that my smile and love for animals would be just the right “bling” I needed to wear.
Michelle: You were nominated in, and won, the advocate category for your work in this area, specifically for helping start the animal shelter/welfare group, OASIS, 23 years ago, as well as being actively involved in forming the South Arkansas Kennel Club. How did animal causes become your passion?
Darleen: This area of south Arkansas was typical, in that, animal control entities existed and were controlled by municipalities. In spite of those entities, my phone was consistently ringing with someone on the other end asking me to do something about a stray dog or cat. For a small group of friends and me that was enough evidence to start working to form the Ouachita Animal Shelter Information Society (OASIS).
We have helped curb the stray pet population in this area by a variety of means, the most effective has been our Spay/Neuter Fund. Citizen purchases a low-cost certificate from OASIS for spaying or neutering their pet. After the procedure, OASIS, is billed the remainder of the costs. I am pleased with our progress although it is never enough. We are proud that over 3600 dogs and cats have been sterilized with this program since it began in 2002.
The South Arkansas Kennel Club grew out of a fundamental feeling I have. That is, if it can happen in New York City, it can happen here. Of course, I am referring to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. I got the idea after showing my dogs for many years that it would be so cool to have a dog show in my home town. I was told that it was impossible to have successful dog shows in Camden because we are 100 miles from the nearest airport.
Again, a small group of friends and I started the process of creating SAKC. It took ten years of fun matches and all the back-breaking work that goes along with that but we completed all AKC requirements and were granted a charter to hold our first licensed dog shows and obedience trials in Camden in 2000. Our show weekend is each year the weekend after Westminster shows in February.
Our 2013 shows attracted over 800 dogs and a gate of 10,000 in attendance. The opportunity to share the sport of dogs and help educate responsible ownership is wonderful and something I am very proud of. We are steadily growing in entries and reputation with each passing year’s shows.
Animal causes became my passion because somebody needed those causes to be important. Dogs, their great lives, and people loving and caring for dogs as much as I do, was and still, is very important to me. Those organizations are just a part of me like my business, Waggin’ Tails, is a part of me.
Somebody needed to care and I am somebody. I can work the rest of my life and not do half what dogs have done in my life.
Michelle: Tell us a little about your business, Waggin’ Tails.
Darleen: Currently, Waggin’ Tails is a grooming, boarding and training facility for dogs and cats. WT was a creation of mine 27 years ago. I was working at a local defense contractor. I had a good-paying steady job with benefits, but that was not enough. I also worked part time for my local veterinarian. Working with the animals I soon learned was my passion. A brief health scare and the encouragement of my friend and veterinarian, I decided I wanted to go after doing what I loved and that was, dogs.
I was 22 years old when I quit my job at the defense company and begin chasing the dream of working with dogs.
Camden was a town at that time of about 14,000 population, and we had two groomers in town and two veterinary clinics. I wanted to offer a boarding facility that offered different services than our local vets could offer. I obtained a loan through my local banker, who I had to convince I could make a business out of caring for dogs. I will always remember trying to convince this man who was not a dog owner, that Waggin’ Tails was a good idea.
Waggin’ Tails started with a small grooming room (12-by-14) and a 20-by-20 room for kennels. Over the years I have been blessed to grow my facility into over with my home being attached to my kennel giving my clients that extra comfort their fur baby has someone with them 24/7. I added an indoor training room to hold my obedience classes inside, added doggy daycare, dog park and this past summer we added dock jumping with our new pool and dock.
I believe that even though our town is small and our population has dropped to under 10,000 with the closing of the plant I worked for before starting Waggin’ Tails plus our Paper Mill that had been the life blood of Camden for over seventy years shutting down and several other businesses followed, the pet owner’s deserve a place they can feel good about with their pet’s needs and care. My customers are the 4-legged ones and I feel I am not doing my job unless their Tail is Wagging.
Michelle: When Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S., you traveled to Louisiana to help with the pet rescue efforts. What motivated you to become involved?
Darleen: Dog People Network. Through that network I knew one of the people who was fervently working to help those pets that were abandoned. I got some kind people in this area to donate money and materials, dog food, crates, water, blankets, etc., to take to the animal shelter in Lake Charles, La. I borrowed a horse trailer, loaded it with goods then my brother and I drove done there.
When the second hurricane, Rita, hit, animals were evacuated to Shreveport, La. Kind citizens of this area donated more money and materials to donate to those animals. Borrowed the same horse trailer, loaded it with goods and set out for Shreveport. This time, we came back with 25 “Katrina dogs” as they were affectionately known. We, members of OASIS, began working to find the original owners of these dogs. We were able to reunite nine Katrina dogs with their original owners. Others we got adopted by kind owners in this area. One Katrina dog is still at my house!
Michelle: In addition to all of this, you are also a certified animal abuse officer. Tell is about that.
Darleen: This aspect of my career came about as a result of the close connection I had, and still have, with local law enforcement. Regretfully, dog fighting is popular in this area and coupled with far too many irresponsible owners law enforcement officers were quite busy with dog issues. Law enforcement officials in rural areas do not get much training on dog issues and dog laws.
I wanted to become a certified animal abuse officer to be able to help train officers in proper handling of animal-related calls to the Sheriff’s office. We have come a long way, but there is still very much to be done. The law enforcement changes, so then there might be a new person who cares about animal issues, or they might not care at all. I know there has been great change since I started handling cruelty cases in 1995, but there is still so much that needs help.
I call it my baby steps that get me through. If I worry about what is happening to some of the animals, I can’t breath. So. I learned to help the ones I can and pray I can help another tomorrow. I have long had a vision of my community becoming one that has zero strays, none euthanized, and people understanding what a privilege it is to own a dog and learning how they should be taken care of.