It’s been quite the year for Kayla Denney. Well, actually it’s been quite a few months for the Taft Animal Control supervisor since she hasn’t even been on the job a whole year yet, but has managed to save hundreds of animals as well as receive national recognition for her lifesaving work.

Earlier this year, Denney was visited by author, celebrity dog trainer and host of Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or the Dog” Victoria Stilwell, who surprised her with a check for $10,000 and nominated her for the National Unsung Hero Award.

She was one of five people from across the nation to be nominated and in April public voting took place online until May 6.

While she was ahead in votes on May 6, she still wasn’t sure if she had won because previously her numbers would fall out of nowhere because people were voting twice and their vote could only count once.

“Initially in the rules it said you couldn’t vote twice, but we didn’t know,” Denney said. “So they would take off those double votes every day.

“So when I would get ahead, I could drop votes. One day I dropped 600 votes.”

When online voting ended, things got quiet.

“It took them two and a half weeks to call me,” Denney continued. “They called me at 10 a.m. on my work phone and said, ‘Kayla, we have some questions for you. Are you available at 11 a.m. for a conference call so we can ask you some questions?’

“And I thought, ‘Wow, why do they have questions? Shouldn’t they have something for me?,’ she added with a laugh.

“So I was a little worried for that hour. And and, of course, it was a big volunteer day out here and then it was a conference call with (Petco Foundation President Susanne Kogut) and she called and she introduced herself.

“And that’s when she let me know that I did win the National Petco Foundation’s Unsung Hero Award and the $25,000.”

Denney also received an all-expense-paid trip to attend the Petco Foundation Gala in San Diego, California. She said all the animal big shots will be there like the “Dog Whisperer” himself, Cesar Millan.

And while she seems to love all the recognition and attention it brought to the Taft Animal Shelter, when it came time to interview her for this story, she was dirty and sweaty cleaning dog kennels and trying to stay cool in the 90-degree heat. 

All alone with no help.

“I need to pinch myself sometimes just because I’m still living day by day trying to fix the shelter up,” Denney said. “I’m still the only employee so it’s hard to really get to enjoy it when every day I’m still trying to save all the animals.

“Just because I won this award doesn’t mean that I’m out of the woods. 

“This shelter is obviously hot and this is the only A/C that we have because the other one broke yesterday.

“So every day it’s just a battle trying to get these animals out. It’s hard to really just bask in the glory because I’m still busting my butt every day to make sure that these animals are safe, because it’s not a walk in the park.”

She added that even though the $25,000 she won from the Petco Foundation will go far in the shelter, it still won’t be enough to fix all the issues and get things like climate controlled areas for the animals to keep them safe from the elements.

The things she’s immediately looking for are:

• foster families who can take in the animals during the sweltering summer months;

• skilled laborers who can donate their time and materials to help repair areas of the shelter;

• transport drivers who can take animals to nearby rescues and get them adopted out;

• and, of course, volunteers.

Anyone interested in helping out can call 361-728-3163 or visit their Facebook page at facebook.com/TaftAnimals.

But through it all, Denney’s smile never fades.

“Everybody’s support won me this and made it possible to be able to help the animals,” she said with a tired grin. “So I want to just thank everybody and let them know that what they did is meaningful.

“Keep helping make change because that’s what we can do. It takes everybody.”