Metro-East Living

Belleville woman goes to bat for dogs and cats

Pet rescue award winner from Belleville gives tips on choosing a pet

Ashley Jett works for St. Clair County Animal Services and tries to find homes for unwanted pets.
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Ashley Jett works for St. Clair County Animal Services and tries to find homes for unwanted pets.

Big Boy’s future looked dim.

The German shepherd already had a rough life before he landed at St. Clair County Animal Services in Belleville.

“The owners had some charges brought up against them,” said Ashley Jett, 30, a clerk for the animal control agency. In her free time, she tries to find homes for unwanted dogs and cats. “We had custody 18 months till the judge signed off on him. Big Boy was kind of a running-the-streets, digging-in-the-trash kind of dog. He wasn’t a real people-friendly dog. He never had people contact or love.”

Until Ashley came to his rescue.

“He ended up going to Gateway Pet Guardians,” she said. “He was placed in a foster home with two other dogs. Those dogs trained him to trust humans. He went from a feral-type street dog to a dog that was laying in front of a fireplace. He was still real timid. By the end of the foster experience, he was playing with other dogs and sitting on the couch next to people, something you would have never thought. The lady who fostered him ended up adopting.”

Big Boy is one of thousands of dogs and cats that Ashley has matched with animal rescue groups.

“My job is to take the calls, dispatch, do the registations for the county, data entry,” said Ashley, a 2003 Belleville East grad. “I took it upon myself to see if I could find rescuers. It was killing me, coming to work watching animals not have a chance of going anywhere. I’ve been there for eight years. The last five, the number (of animals rescued) has grown.”

For her efforts, she recently was named Pet Welfare Partner of the Year, an award given by Two Gals for Rescued Pals.

“It’s a pretty big deal in the animal rescue community,” said Bob Trentman, who is on St. Clair County Board’s animal control committee. “She is a true friend of the animal rescue organizations on both sides of the river.”

Jamie Case, executive director of Gateway Pet Guardians in St. Louis, works closely with Ashley. Gateway is a nonprofit St. Louis animal shelter that focuses on stray pets in and around East St. Louis.

“When you bring a dog to animal control, there are three outcomes,” Jamie said. “They may be euthanized, adopted or transferred to another organizaton. Ashley single-handedly transfers to groups like mine. We are on Facebook and texting, ‘Who has space?’ She takes a lot of her own time on weekends, evenings and early mornings. ... Her work is very important to us. We want to make sure when our dogs end up with animal control that they have a shot at a better life.”

Ashley is in regular contact with five or six groups, including Partners for Pets in Troy.

“Every day, I just walk through the kennel and see what’s up,” she said. “It’s my routine. I do an evaluation, then try to find a rescue group.”

Representatives from the groups come through and choose which dogs are best for their organization.

“She’s paid to work at animal control,” said Jamie. “She’s not paid to do the extra work with the dogs. At the end of 2015, her number was 1,209 taken off the euthanasia list. She made a post on the Facebook page. ‘1,209 with another shot at life. It takes a village. We have one heck of a village.’”

Ashley’s numbers have been going up since 2011. That year, she transferred 271; for 2012, the number was 351; for 2013, 533; for 2014, 1,122.

“We have a group of three or four girls who help network and contact rescuers,” said Ashley. “I would say we are always pushing the limit.”

If you visit Ashley at her family’s Belleville home, you’ll likely be greeted by Buddy, a shih tsu, and Shoei, a terrier mix. The family’s four cats — Oakley, Otis, Otto and Gracie — may make an appearance, depending on their curiosity.

“Mom (Gail Jett) loves animals,” said Ashley. “We have always had a yard full. My daughter is the same way. She’s going to replace me one day. She will have something to do with animals.”

Ten-year-old Skylar Shanks, a fifth-grader at Westhaven, already does. When she’s not playing soccer or basketball, she’s raising money for a shelter or collecting treats and blankets for animals. Shoei was a gift for her 9th birthday.

“I was asking for a dog to play with and wanted a playmate for Buddy,” said Skylar. “Sometimes when I get home from school, I take them out with the soccer ball. Buddy sits there. Shoei runs after it.”

“There’s a lot going on,” said Ashley, who is also taking online classes through St. Louis Community College to become a court stenographer.

We asked Ashley about her work.

Q: What breeds are a challenge to place?

A: “Pit bulls are a dime a dozen. They are everywhere. Some people think pit bulls are the dog to have. They breed them, then there are puppies. It’s a neverending cycle. People get rid of them or just don’t come back for them. Each dog’s temperament is different. There are really, really sweet pit bulls. Some are high energy. Some are not good with other animals. Some are aggressive. The majority could be sit-down lap dogs. Any dog, you could make him mean by pushing him around. Finding places for pit bulls is trickier than a Lab or a chihuahua that’s small and cute and fluffy. You really have to find the right home for (pit bulls). I haven’t lost an adoptable one yet.”

Q: Does a breed you have too many of ever change?

A: “We were talking about it today. My boss said, when he first started, Labrador retrievers were flowing out of the kennels. We’re getting a lot more Labs. It goes through stages. Rottweilers are big. Dobermans are big. People like big dogs. We get a lot of shih tzus. I think people get tired of them because you have to groom them all the time. In the spring (starting in March), we have kittens galore. You would think cute little fluffy kittens would go fast, but there are so many. By Christmas, people are begging for kittens.”

Q: The hardest part of the process?

A: “Waiting and watching. It gives me anxiety.” Especially when the 35 kennels fill up. “Walking past the dog and saying, ‘Hopefully, tomorrow. I am trying, Buddy.’ I get attached. That’s why I push my limits. I don’t want to lose any of them. Monday is a big day when a lot of them go. We will find places over the weekend. There is a group of women (nonprofit Stray Angels) who work with me and contact places. I couldn’t do it without them. When we find a place, it’s ‘OK, everyone stop. We have got a place for this one.’”

Q: Do you have any good stories about owners finding their dogs?

A: “A pit bull went missing from Bloomington in March 2014. The guy who owned him thought the dog was long gone. We got the dog a few weeks ago. It was microchipped. Luckily, the phone number still connected to him. Microchips are a great concept, but you have to keep the information current. When the guy came to pick him up, you could tell instantly he recognized his owner. He was so excited. His tail was wagging and he was kind of crying. ‘That’s my Daddy. Let me out.’”