This year, senior Kailey McNeal was named Volunteer of the Year by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) of Texas. In addition, she was nominated as a Hill’s Shelter Hero candidate, an award honoring volunteers who, according to Hill’s Shelter Heroes website, “go above and beyond to transform the lives of pets.”
“I was extremely surprised to win the award, but very grateful,” said Kailey. “Animal protection is the most important thing in my life and for the past five years the SPCA of Texas has helped me make a huge difference in the lives of North Texas animals.”
Kailey has volunteered at SPCA since she was 12 years old and has accumulated over 590 hours of service. Her interest in and love for animals began with encouragement from her mother and her own pets.
“My mom has always been a pretty big animal lover so she would take me over to her parents’ house where they had dogs and cats and I would take care of those
animals,” said Kailey. “That’s when I realized I wanted to volunteer with animals, and then we got two dogs from SPCA of Texas so I was like ‘why don’t I start volunteering there?’”
When Kailey was old enough, she and her mother would go to the SPCA shelter to volunteer together. After learning about the struggles that the animals at the SPCA shelter faced, she began doing more research on animals, which led her to read “Animal Liberation” by Peter Singer. Kailey described the book as the current bible of animal rights. After reading it, she decided to try veganism.
“Sophomore year, a couple of my friends asked me why I wasn’t vegetarian. [After reading “Animal Liberation”] I thought, well, I do love animals, and why do I volunteer? I volunteer because I don’t want the animals at the shelter to suffer. I got to the point where it was like how can I say I love animals so much and not make this change [to veganism]?” Kailey said.
After going vegan for a few days, Kailey decided to switch to veganism permanently. Becoming vegan helped Kailey realize that she wants to help all types of animals, not just dogs and cats, so she began volunteering at other organizations in addition to SPCA. Kailey has worked with The Humane League, in which she was honored as Student Activist of the Year. She is currently a mentor at Vegan Outreach, where she supports people who want to become vegan. Most recently, Kailey is interning with the Texas Humane Legislation Network to experience the legal side of protecting animal rights, a route she may want to follow in college.
“Kailey’s continuous commitment alone to our organization shows us that this is an issue she is passionate about,” said Leyka Ishibashi, the Volunteer Recruiter at the SPCA of Texas. “She is dedicated,
has a passion for our animals, works hard and is always helpful. You can see the love and passion she has for animals come
to fruition in her time spent with the animals and us.”
In addition to working with these organizations, Kailey advocates for animal rights through her class work, social media, outfits and even her car.
“I am trying to represent the animal rights movement by trying to get it out to people. One thing I learned at animal rights camp is that you have to find ways to do “ninja activism”, which is activism that people don’t know you are doing, like wearing t-shirts or putting things on your car. I write political messages and put crazy bumper stickers [on my car] to try to get an idea across to people subconsciously without them realizing that I’m trying to get them thinking,” Kailey said.
Although Kailey has not officially decided what she would like to do in college, her current career goal is to be a lobbyist for animal protection legislation.
“I want to do whatever I can to make the most change for animals. I think that activism and education are really important, imperative even, but I think that a place where animals are majorly lacking representation is our government,” Kailey said. “I think it is really important to have a voice in government that is perceived as less “extreme” in order to make institutional changes, along with the social change that is already happening. It is hard for any social change for animals to come if our legislation allows cruelty to occur.”
Photo courtesy of Kailey McNeal