Women’s History Month: Judy Wheaton helps the community with her passion to save animals

Published 7:00 am Saturday, March 18, 2017

This is another in a series of stories celebrating Women’s History Month.

Since Judy Wheaton came to Pearl River County in Jan. of 2000, she has been making a difference in the community, though her efforts to save the lives of unwanted pets brought to the Pearl River County SPCA. Before she was bestowed the honor of being named the director of the shelter, she used every ounce of her passion to help needy animals.
“Even though my parents weren’t particularly animal-related, they worked hard at being courteous, passionate and understanding in what they did for a living. I feel like I got all those traits from them . . .,” Wheaton said. “I mean, how could you not enjoy seeing all these little animals running around all of the time?”
Growing up as an only child in Atkins, South Carolina, she recalls fond memories of her first dog, Snoopy, who was possibly the inspiration for her passion to save animals.
Wheaton’s affinity for animals brought her to the PRC SPCA, she said. But before she came to the shelter, she took her industrial engineering degree from Georgia Tech and worked at Stennis Space Center as the director of informational technology. During her time at Stennis, she was in charge of managing a $10 million budget and over 150 employees.
Then, after retiring in 2000, she moved to Pearl River County and within the first couple of months, crossed through the PRC SPCA doors. At that time, the shelter was in its infancy, operated solely by volunteers for two years prior to the Picayune Police Department relinquishing custody of it. To start, Wheaton said she cleaned kennels and spent plenty of time with the animals, which is still her favorite part of being involved with the shelter.
“I started out low, cleaning poop and everything, but as long as I was able to help these animals out, I was happy,” Wheaton said.
Eventually, she would work her way to the top, earning trust with staff and volunteers. In 2009, she was officially named the director of the PRC SPCA.
“This place wouldn’t be running if it weren’t for Judy. She knows exactly what to do and how to do it. She’s the reason why I’m here,” Dara Hooper, PRC SPCA staff member said.
Now as the director, she wants the shelter to not just help animals, which is her number one priority, but to also change the current status at the shelter.
“I want to turn this place into a no-kill shelter,” Wheaton said. “That would mean that we wouldn’t have to euthanize animals anymore, which would take so much stress off of the employees and volunteers here who have to go through that process.”
In her initial years, Wheaton said the shelter had to euthanize one animal per week, but now, that number is slowly being reduced.
Through her entire experience at the shelter, Wheaton said she learned a lot about herself, how to effectively run an animal shelter and how to keep her coworkers and the animals happy.
“This place is light-years away from what it was like when I first started here… and that is all because of the amazing staff I have and the trust we share between one another,” Wheaton said.
Wheaton’s advice to anyone interested in following her footsteps is that it’s a lot of work, but there are many opportunities at the shelter for a variety of people. From joining planning committees for fundraisers to gaining experience in animal medicine, Wheaton said an opportunity for an unforgettable experience is waiting at the PRC SPCA.

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