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Service over self

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Jackie Ross-Guerrero dedicates more time to helping animals than herself.

A Stillwater resident who runs the Humane Society of Stillwater as the shelter director, Ross-Guerrero spends most of her days making sure no animal goes without a home.

Although she finds homes for pets in Stillwater, the state hasn’t always been the place Ross-Guerrero calls home. 

“I’m actually a public health microbiologist by trade,” Ross-Guerrero said. “I worked for the University of Iowa for almost 15 years and then my husband was transferred to Virginia.”

Doing public health work in Washington, D.C., took a toll on Ross-Guerrero and her husband, Gilbert. They decided they needed to get back to the Midwest, Ross-Guerrero said.

“I’m from Iowa originally and he was from Texas, so we kind of met in the middle and there was a job opening for him in Stillwater and we just really fell in love with it,” Ross-Guerrero said.

With about nine hours separating Ross-Guerrero and her husband from their families on each side, they settled in Stillwater and started making an impact on the community.

“Whenever we move around, I’ve always volunteered at animal shelters,” Ross-Guerrero said. “That was kind of my thing.”

She had grown up hanging out in her aunts’ and uncles’ barns with their livestock. Her time with these animals inspired her to become a veterinarian until she realized how much schooling and money it would take.

Volunteering at the animal shelter was the next best option, Ross-Guerrero said.

More than 75 dogs and 60 cats lived at the shelter before Ross-Guerrero started her work at the Humane Society. They definitely needed help, she said. 

It took only four months for the Humane Society to ask Ross-Guerrero whether she would become the next shelter director.

“I had no idea how to run an animal shelter, but I said, ‘Sure, why not?’,” Ross-Guerrero said.

A little more than a decade later and the shelter has completely changed. Before Ross-Guerrero became the director, there were a few cages, and animals didn’t get to go outside often. 

Humane Society Treasurer Ruthie Francis was a volunteer before Ross-Guerrero was the director and remembers what the shelter was like.

“It is probably 180 degrees opposite of what it was before,” Francis said. “She’s very immaculate. She, the volunteers and the animal caretakers keep the kennels very clean.”

Recently, the shelter has renovated the “middle run” of the shelter to get it up to code. Before the renovation, there wasn’t even a bathroom for the Humane Society section of buildings that connect Stillwater Animal Welfare to the Humane Society of Stillwater. The society is working to get estimates to renovate another room.

The animal caretakers would do anything for Ross-Guerrero because they love her, Francis said.

Animal caretaker Amy Kennedy volunteered at the shelter before she decided she wanted to work there full time. 

“When I started volunteering, Jackie and I hit it off,” Kennedy said. “She has been just a huge inspiration for a lot of the things I do and why I got into rescue so much… She just puts her heart and soul into everything she does.”

Kennedy also recognized the change in the shelter over the years.

“I don't think people realize the shelter wasn't always in the condition that it is now,” Kennedy said. “It started in a really tough place where it didn’t even have enough money to really even feed all the animals in its care at times. She started from nothing and she bought all the cleaning supplies with her own money and just got it cleaned up. She just started reaching out to the community and just like building all these community connections that have helped make the shelter what it is today.”

Reintroducing the Humane Society to the community was Ross-Guerrero’s biggest goal when she started.

“You know, she’s reached out to the vets in town and she’s reached out to the businesses in town and now our shelter is seen as one of the better ones,” Kennedy said. “It’s clean, it’s happy, people want to volunteer here… I just don’t think she brags on herself enough for how much work she puts into it.”

Ross-Guerrero has even made TV appearances on a student-run news station at Oklahoma State University to make sure each animal at the Humane Society found its forever home.

Larry Magee, a former news producer for “The Daily O,” worked closely with Ross-Guerrero during her time with the station before the pandemic started. 

“It was great to have the Humane Society and The Daily O work together to actually be there for the community,” Magee said. “Jackie was just so amazing that she took the time out of her busy schedule to come every week to bring a new animal or animals at the same time to the show and she always had something great to talk about. 

Ross-Guerrero is a woman with no excuses, Magee said.

“For The Daily O, she never said no. She was there every week consistently,” Magee said. “She may have been sick one day and we’d have no idea, that’s how dedicated she is.”

As someone who has adopted from the shelter, a volunteer and a foster mom to some animals from the shelter, Lisa Jacobs said she and Ross-Guerrero talk nearly every day.

“She’s always asking me how everything’s going if she hasn’t heard from me,” Jacobs said. “If I find something important about one of the animals in my care, I’ll contact her immediately.”

Jacobs has been with Ross-Guerrero through the harder cases as well.

“I’m sure she shows up to some of these places and she is just angry at what some of these poor animals have been through,” Jacobs said. “I’ve seen her absolutely livid after having to go to a case that was really bad before and it’s understandable but the first thing she says is, ‘Let’s get them out of here, let’s take care of it.’ So, the animal has to come first, but it’s heartbreaking to see what some of these poor things have been through.”

It’s even more heartbreaking knowing that someone did this and it could have been prevented, Jacobs said.

Sometimes Ross-Guerrero wonders whether she is putting too much time into the shelter.

“So, you know, I’m trying to figure when will be the right time for me to step away and say, ‘OK, I’ve done what I can because there’s still so much someone else could do and maybe it’s time for me to move on,’” Ross-Guerrero said. “I just don’t know if it’s that time yet.”

Despite not knowing when her time at the shelter will end, Ross-Guerrero said she loves walking through the doors at work every day.  

“Not a lot of people can say that,” Ross-Guerrero said. “My mom used to tell me that all the time. You have to love what you do, you have to love being able to get up and go to work every day and I do. Thank goodness the good days do outweigh the bad days because we do have sad days here, we do have days where it doesn’t go the way we want it to go, but I just focus on the good days and think tomorrow’s gonna be better.”