When fourth grader Willow Phelps heard about her school’s intention to use goldfish as prizes in an upcoming carnival, she jumped to action. With help from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, she was able to prevent the activity by citing a New Jersey law prohibiting the use of animals as prizes. To compensate for lost earnings, she participated in a charity run and raised $500 for the school.
A dedicated animal advocate with an athletic streak, Willow has competed in numerous runs and mile-long swims to raise funds for animals in need, and regularly fosters senior and hospice animals from local shelters. She also hand-sews catnip toys to sell at craft fairs, then uses the money to buy supplies for homeless people and their pets.
Last fall, at the age of nine, Willow was recognized for her hard work when she received the ASPCA’s Tommy P. Monahan Kid of the Year Award. On November 17, 2016, she and seven other Humane Award recipients were honored at the annual ASPCA Humane Awards Luncheon in New York City, which also commemorated the 150th anniversary of the organization. (You can view her acceptance speech below.)
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Willow (after school, of course) and asked if she’d share some insight from her advocacy work. We were — and continue to be — inspired by her tenacity and resourcefulness, are thrilled to share her wisdom with the rest of the MUTTS community.
Do your friends support your efforts to stand up for animals?
Yes, my friends always support my efforts for animals. My school recently gave me a Certificate of Achievement for getting the ASPCA Kid of the Year Award. My best friend Nate also makes dog treats. Sometimes we go to craft fairs together to raise money for animals.
Where do you find the animals who live at your home?
We get our hospice animals from local shelters. We got [our senior dogs] Skylar and Cricket from our local shelter, Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge (RBARI). They have a program to help pay the medical bills for senior dogs and cats. Our new senior dog Fern came from Mohawk Humane Society. A friend told us about her and we adopted her on Christmas Eve. She is 14 years old and from Georgia.
Have you faced any obstacles while working with animals or speaking up for them? If so, how did you overcome them?
When I made my ASPCA speech in front of a few hundred people, that was definitely an obstacle, but I overcame it by facing it.
Doing hospice care makes me happy and sad at the same time. It makes me happy because [the animals] have a good rest of their lives and they are not living in the shelter. The sad part is when they pass and I don’t get to see them again. It’s also hard being a vegetarian at school because I’m the only one and sometimes people misunderstand it. I usually tell them what a vegetarian is and I let them ask questions.
Some people want to help animals, but are afraid to because they know it can be sad at times. Do you have any advice for people who feel this way?
Some people might be sad visiting a shelter, but I would tell them at least it’s safe there, and the animals have food and water and shelter. They have volunteers and people who work there to play with them and take them for walks and they find great homes, and some animals don’t have that.
What have you learned from the animals you’ve cared for?
I’ve learned not to judge an animal by its shape or size. Never give up. I’ve learned there could be miracles, like my cat Augustus who was very sick and surprisingly recovered (from distemper). From hospice animals, I’ve learned that even if you are old you can still be very playful and have fun. You can always make new friends. And I learned to be patient because sometimes the old dogs might be a little bit slow.
How do you plan to continue helping animals?
I will keep on helping senior and hospice fosters. I will continue to run and swim and make cat toys to raise money for animals in need. When I grow up I want to be a veterinarian for the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in New Jersey. I will continue to speak up for animals no matter how hard it is.
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