Monday, October 2, 2023

Fulfilling a responsibility to the underdog

Anyone who knows Stacey Schumacher insists that her personality, infectious smile, and heart for animals are as big as Texas. But try to heap praise on her or shine a spotlight for a job well done, and she’ll quickly run in the opposite direction.

“It’s not the Stacey show,” Schumacher said with a laugh. She started the wildly popular Texas Coalition for Animal Protection (TCAP) 19 years ago. “I hide in my office like the wizard no one sees behind the curtain. For group pictures, I’m the one taking them. Yes, I had this idea and set up the framework, but it has been a labor of love for everyone here.”

She added, “I love what we are doing. But it’s just not me to be in the spotlight.”

Here’s the deal, though: people enjoy getting that peek behind the curtain every so often. Sure, they love and appreciate the people on the front lines who care for their pets week in and week out — and TCAP has no shortage of those folks. The Denton County-based non-profit has 57 employees and is a low-cost alternative that partners with full-service veterinary clinics and animal shelters to provide quality care for animals.

But behind it all is a girl from Sulphur Springs who moved to Denton and has taken her lifelong love for animals to a whole new level.

Schumacher has grown TCAP from being open just one night a week on Thursdays to now having eight locations specializing only in spay and neuter services, vaccinations, heartworm testing and prevention, microchipping services, and dental care. And it’s super affordable. A full set of vaccines could cost a pet owner as little as $25. Spay and neuter services range between $35-$65. Last year in the middle of a global pandemic, TCAP spayed and neutered 63,410 animals. Of those, they sterilized 15,224 cats and dogs at no cost to pet owners who were struggling financially.

All totaled, TCAP provided $1.4 million in free pet services in 2020.

That’s quite an accomplishment. But in Schumacher’s eyes, their job isn’t over.

“I’m a very driven person, and I don’t know if there will ever be a time where I’ll look at what TCAP accomplishes or what I have and say, ‘man, we made it.’ Yeah, we’ve done these things, but how much more is there to do? Animals are still in shelters and being put to sleep across North Texas. So until that number is zero, we haven’t accomplished our goal.”

Schumacher’s journey to starting TCAP was inevitable. After all, this is a devoted wife and mother of two who, as a young girl, pushed her dolls to the side because she preferred her stuffed animals more. She had the same feelings toward real pets, and in her mind, there was always room for visitors. If there was ever a loose dog in the neighborhood, you could bet it would eventually come home with young Stacey.

She also found a cat that had been hit by a car and nursed it back to health. It lived at her parents’ house for 15 years.

“My parents would say, ‘Oh, he’ll find a way home.’ But you just knew it was coming home with me,” she said. “I have lots of crazy animal stories where my parents were like, ‘You couldn’t just leave it. You had to bring it home.’”

As Stacey grew up and got into high school, she rented a van every month to transport animals from her parents’ house to a low-cost clinic in the Dallas area. She’d then round them up and drive them all back home. She led a low-cost animal clinic in her hometown in the mid-1990s but ultimately started TCAP in the Denton area when she was 26.

The idea for TCAP was simple: make caring for animals affordable. Even the most well-intentioned family with multiple dogs and cats at home struggle to afford basic veterinary care. TCAP doesn’t replace full-service clinics, and there are a variety of services they do not do. But by working alongside these clinics, they can help reduce costs for basic needs that are sometimes unattainable.

For Stacey and her team, it’s all in a day’s work — no kudos required.

“It never feels like work when it’s your calling,” she said. “I had moved to Denton, and it was an area that was growing, and euthanasia rates were really high. My role is simply to keep things going. I try to be open to new opportunities, and I know I’m at the helm of this ship. But there are a lot of really good people paddling every step of the way.”

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