STANFORD — Bethany Jackson asked her friends for some unusual presents on her 10th birthday — dog food, cat litter, animal shampoo. Delivering those things to the Danville-Boyle County Humane Society Animal Shelter during her party, she decided, would bring her more joy than any number of other gifts.
But the animal enthusiast admitted her request for shelter donations wasn’t completely selfless.
“It was sort of an excuse to go there,” she said. “I liked getting out all the different dogs and puppies and playing with the cats.”
Bethany, now 12, has continued the tradition of birthday donations to the animals for at least three years, and this year began volunteering at the shelter every Saturday.
She is simultaneously humble and ecstatically passionate when discussing her efforts, suggesting with every comment that the only way to return the happiness that animals give her is through work with the shelter — a simple give and take.
So, while many kids her age sleep in or succumb to the Saturday morning cartoon stupor, Bethany travels from her 25-acre farm in Stanford to Danville to wash, feed and clean up after animals in need.
“I really like when a puppy that I washed and stuff gets to go home with a new owner,” she said. “It feels good.”
Bethany began regularly volunteering at the shelter after becoming a new owner herself about a year ago. Though her family already had three horses, three cats and a dog, Bethany wanted a dog of her own to train for agility competitions. So for the first time, she visited the shelter to take home one of her beloved animals for good.
A year-old boxer mix with a muscular build and enough energy to rival Bethany’s exuberance caught her attention. After Bethany renamed the dog Penny and trained her with a year of obedience and competition skills, the pair competed in their first agility tournament in Taylorsville in August. Penny had to navigate jumps, tunnels, ramps and weave polls, which required an exceptional amount of focus for a curious pup, Bethany explained. So, more practice and other competitions are in their near future.
“Penny still didn’t really know what was going on yet, but it was a really good experience for her and for me,” she said like a proud mother.
Also like a parent, Bethany always considers Penny’s feelings when grooming the endlessly cute animals at the shelter each weekend.
“I just sort of think about how would Penny feel about another puppy,” she said. “She’s very demanding, and she gets jealous.”
Bethany’s parents, Mike and Gail, still have to reign in her requests for new animals every now and then. However, both agree her shelter experiences have and will serve her well.
“It gives Bethany a sense of volunteerism and helping something that need to be helped,” Mike Jackson said. “For me, it’s exciting because I think so many kids today really don’t have a passion, and she obviously has a passion.”
Her devotion to animals is so strong, Bethany already has her heart set on a career as a veterinarian and hopes to attend a veterinary camp at Auburn University in Alabama this summer.
Until she can house animals in her own practice, however, she will continue to find ways to build her current unique assortment of pets, including Teddy the hamster and several fish.
“I’m trying to get a ferret,” she said. “We’ve ordered the cage already.”