All you need is love

Pet-lover turns helping heart into career as animal advocate

Molly Peterson, president of the Collin County Humane Society and the freestanding animal adoption center in Rockwall, has a love for animals dating way back to her early years.

Photo: Rockwall Herald-Banner

The animal shelter employee dragged the puppy across the floor, moving him from one puppy-filled cage to another. Unfortunately, overcrowding in animal shelters is more the norm than the exception in all too many places.

More than 3,500 animal shelters exist in the United States with more than 700 found in California. One afternoon – some 13 years ago – a California Lutheran University senior named Molly Peterson had her life changed forever. She witnessed firsthand the puppy being transplanted from one overcrowded cage to another on a visit she had made to the shelter.

“It was horrific. Dogs piled on top of dogs in cages. It was absolutely heartbreaking,” said Peterson, who is now the president and director of the Collin County Humane Society.

It was that very afternoon she realized that she had to become personally involved in working with animals by helping to create shelters that were safe and caring facilities for wayward or abandoned animals. Peterson left the shelter that afternoon with the mistreated puppy that she would come to know as Charlie.

Shortly after adopting Charlie, Peterson became the vice president of a nonprofit organization, All Retrievers Friends, in Los Angeles. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Cal Lutheran, Peterson moved to Texas.

As a person with a passion for helping animals, Peterson began fostering animals with the Flower Mound Humane Society in 2002. Four years later, she was fostering animals in her own home for the DFW Cocker Rescue, DFW Lab Rescue and Animal Guardian organization. Finding herself being drawn more and more to the calling of helping animals, she started the Collin County Humane Society (CCHS) in March of 2008. For four-and-one half years, CCHS operated as a fostering program, seeking out people who would volunteer to foster dogs in their homes until the organization could find a permanent home for them. To this day, CCHS has partner-foster homes spread across North Texas from Terrell to Fort Worth to Denton.

In 2009, Peterson decided to commit all of her time and energy to working with CCHS in hopes of helping animals find permanent homes and giving them a second chance at life.

Three years later, the opportunity had risen to expand from foster homes to the prospect of managing an adoption facility. Rockwall reached out to CCHS offering the opportunity to have a free-standing shelter. Being one of the three organizations who applied, and after seven months of interviews, CCHS was granted a five-year contract with the city of Rockwall to manage the adoption facility.

On July 15, 2012, the city of Rockwall and CCHS entered into an agreement that permitted Peterson and CCHS to take over operation of an existing shelter in Rockwall. Peterson and her team only had two weeks to update the facility and reorganize the staff. They then spent the next seven months to make CCHS look and operate as it does today.

“There’s always constant change; like with any business, there are things that can be done better,” Peterson said. “It wasn’t necessarily hard work; it just took a little longer than one would think to get things in order. Since CCHS is an organization that cannot close its doors, even for a day, due to the fact that we receive and adopt out animals daily, we didn’t have the chance to close our doors, get everyone trained, get paperwork together and open to the public. We had to hit the ground running.”

Given the fact that the CCHS often shelters 150-250 animals at a time in Rockwall, Peterson and her dedicated staff have worked hard to make the facility run smoothly. She has worked especially hard at hiring and developing a loving and caring staff that can handle the everyday challenges of working in an animal shelter. Members of her staff include Lara Pitek, manager of the Rockwall facility, and Lyndsey Weaver, coordinator of intakes and adoptions.

Since opening the Rockwall facility, Peterson has hit the ground running and has yet to stop. From overseeing the shelter itself to staying in constant contact with the various foster homes in an effort to make sure that animals are adopted and well taken care of; she has her plate full. Peterson says her best days at work are when everything runs smoothly and multiple adoptions take place.

“It’s hard choosing one particular day that is better than the rest,” Peterson said. “Getting a facility staffed and ready to open its doors for CCHS at Rockwall in two weeks was a major accomplishment, but being in the place we are now as opposed to six months ago is also quite an accomplishment. Then there are those days that we adopt out multiple dogs and that is unbelievable too; we have just come so far.”

Peterson always had pets growing up but had never adopted one or even knew about adopted dogs until she went to that Los Angeles animal shelter 13 years ago. Since that afternoon, she has adopted three dogs ranging in age from seven to nine years. She and her husband have a lab and two mutts.

As for Charlie, the puppy Peterson adopted 13 years ago, she relocated the Great Dane-Labrador mix to Arizona. Charlie has gone on to live a long happy life and goes for walks in the mountains of Phoenix where she resides with Peterson’s parents and their beloved lab, Buddy.

--- Published in the Rockwall Herald-Banner on April 25, 2013