Founder of Fuzzy Friends Rescue
You are a supporter of higher education in Texas. Why McLennan Community College?
McLennan Community College is a local two-year college here in Waco, Texas. Each year, we give money to underwrite scholarships for students who wouldn’t have the money to go to school otherwise.We also support Baylor University, but MCC is a great community college. They do a great job preparing these students.
Both your father and husband were in the insurance business?
You won’t believe the story, so here is the shortened version: when Clifton and I were about to get married, he called his uncle, who was his mentor, and said, “Uncle John, I’m about to get married,” and he said, “Well, who are you marrying?” He said, “Betsy Sharp.” Uncle John replied, “That wouldn’t be ‘Tomcat’ Sharp’s daughter, would it?” And he said, “Yes, it is.” As it turns out, his uncle and my father were friends and roommates right out of college, living in Houston, Texas, both selling insurance.
The circle of life?
Yes. Certainly, a small world.
Your father never met your husband. How old were you when your father passed away?
I was 26 years old. He had a stroke and an aneurysm. He was here one day and gone the next. It was horrible.
Your mother never remarried and passed away when you were in your fifties. Were your parents your role model for marriage?
Yes, they had a great marriage. They had ups and downs like everyone, but they had a very good marriage. They loved to entertain and they loved people. As an adult, my father was manager of an insurance company here in town. He came from a Baylor background and a lot of the younger agents were Baylor grads as well. So, daddy was Big Daddy and they were the Cubs. Our home was like the hub for everyone to come over and have fun.
What person impacted your childhood the most and why?
My father because he was very, very steadfast. He never got loud. He was my go-to person. If his friends and co-workers had a problem, they would go to him. He was so easy to talk to, very, very smart, honest and just a good person.
Was he a religious man?
Yes. In fact, his father’s father, my grandfather, was a Methodist preacher and one of the founders of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
Where does your love of animals stem?
I’ve loved animals my entire life. My parents let me have every kind of critter in the world. I had horses, dogs, donkey, a lizard—my love of animals ran the gamut of the world.
Fuzzy Friends Rescue. Is that what defines you? Who you are?
Yes, it is. It is my passion and my whole world. I never had a passion to save animals until God truly burdened my heart with the plight of homeless animals. It was 1990, and at that time, we had three poodles. I love dogs, but I really love poodles. I was clueless about the number of wonderful animals going through our city shelters nationwide. One day, I dropped in to see my groomer, and he was grooming a little silver poodle. I said, “Oh, my goodness, she’s just adorable.” When he said, “She’s from the pound,” I was horrified. This precious little 8-pound silver poodle was from the pound? I found her a home the very next day. She ended up living in Palm Springs in a wonderful home with a great family. Three weeks went by, and I went back to my groomers, and he was grooming an Old English Sheepdog. I said, “I love Sheepdogs. We had one when I was in college.” He said three words that changed my life forever: “Another shelter child.” Back then, there was no such thing as a “no kill rescue.” An animal was either adopted or euthanized in just a matter of days. Imagine being on Death Row and your only crime is being homeless. I couldn’t quit thinking about these two dogs. God had begun to work on my heart. When Clifton and I married, he told me to look outward, not inward. Don’t be all about hair and nails. I had tried volunteering, but I never really found my niche. I made an appointment and I went down to the local city pound. Later, I learned that normally the director never sat in on meetings with volunteers. But that day she did. I was so excited. I said, “I want to make a difference and help homeless animals.” And the lady said, “Well, if you want to make a difference, we need money. Right now we can only keep puppies and kittens for a matter of days. Their immune systems are very fragile; they’re babies, and they catch every disease that comes through our shelter. If we could vaccinate them, maybe we could keep them five or six days instead of two or three and get more adopted and save more lives.” “How much money do you need?” I asked. She said, “Oh, we need $3,000.” I said, “Order your vaccines. I’ll get you the money.” She asked who my veterinarian was and called my vet to see if I was legit. The veterinarian said, “Order your vaccines.” The very next day, I went out, on fire with this passion. Instead of $3,000, I raised $10,000 dollars in two weeks. I was so excited. A friend, who was the first person I called on, gave me a thousand dollars. He remains a great supporter and friend today. I had never done any fundraising in my life. I really was focused on hair, nails and playing tennis back then. I was so thrilled knowing I could do this. I began volunteering at the local pound five days a week and also fundraising. I was also looking at the dogs who needed a little makeover. So many dogs came through there dirty (especially the longer haired dogs) and matted with burrs. I would see a movie star under all that neglect and hair. I would have them groomed. When I would be out with friends at a party or having dinner, I would always ask what kind of animal they liked. A friend said, “We like basset hounds.” One day, low and behold, a basset hound was at the city pound. I was really tricky. I never called anybody or gave them advance notice. I would show up at their doorstep, ring their doorbell and say, “Hi, I’ve got a basset hound for you.” I did that a lot. I just placed animals from the shelter all the time, and I loved it. I was there every day for six years. I learned how to read the cage cards and could tell when an animal’s time was up, and they were on the kill list. That experience truly brought God’s vision for me into focus: a no kill shelter where time was no longer an issue. If an animal came to us with a broken leg, a skin issue or a disease that was treatable and curable, we would go the distance to save their lives. I had never taken a business class or a management class in my life; I was an education major. So, to say it was a challenge is an understatement. But, when God gives you a vision, He gives you the strength. I am just thankful that He gave me the courage to answer His call.
Were there any dark times over the past twenty years at Fuzzy Friends?
Absolutely. Fuzzy Friends Rescue has been at our new location for 18 years. I started 21 years ago. In the early years, we had about three and- a-half or four employees. Every holiday, the paid staff would do the feeding and cleaning in the mornings, and then they would leave to be with their families for the day. When you have living, breathing animals, they have to be looked after, and walked and fed in the afternoon. I remember leaving my family on cold Christmas days driving out there about 3:00 in the afternoon and thinking, “What have I got myself into? I can’t do this.” I had just fixed a big Christmas meal and done all the Christmas shopping, and I was exhausted. But when I opened the front door and walked in, locking eyes with those animals reminded me that I could do it. I was doing it. It was like an adrenaline rush that renewed my strength and excitement. The discouragement just evaporated because God gave me the strength and determination to do what had to be done.
Do you still have that same feeling, that same passion, that same adrenaline?
Yes, I work with the same passion. In fact, I believe it is stronger than ever before.
What brings you the most joy? It can be anything. What brings you, Betsy, the most joy in life?
My greatest joy is knowing that we are finding great homes for animals and giving them a second chance at life. Our work celebrates the human-animal bond.
What is success?
Success is being able to, at the end of the day, feel good about what you’re doing, and to know that you are making a difference. God burdened my heart with the plight of animals. But we all are here to do something, to make a difference in the world in which we live. Whether it’s animals or the elderly or children or the homeless, God will speak to each and every heart. I challenge young women today, when God speaks to your heart, have the courage to answer that call. I won’t be afraid. I never had a business class, but I knew I couldn’t fail. That was not an option.
I want you to look at your life to this point, and give me only one answer. What is your greatest accomplishment to date and why?
Fuzzy Friends Rescue. Think about the thousands of animal lives we have saved and the tens of thousands of human lives we have blessed and touched through our work.
Your mother passed away when you were 50. How old were you when your brother passed away?
And the death of both your mother and brother… How did that affect you?
I lost then within eight weeks of each other. It was very tough, but I had to be strong because of my niece and nephew. My brother’s children were both going to Baylor, and it was very hard. An extremely difficult time.
Was it expected or not?
No, it was not. My mother had been sick for about five years. She had emphysema (COPD), but then she had to have emergency gallbladder surgery. Because of her diseased lungs, she could not get off the breathing machine, and she passed away. It was a shock.
And your brother?
He had an aneurysm like my father. He was here one day and gone the next. He was only 56.
So, you’ve had three life experiences that were completely unpredictable. What is your take away from that?
I turned to God for strength. That’s the only way I got through it, with God’s help and prayer. When I grieved, I would cry. I would do it privately, just God and me. It was tough. You realize that you have to go on. I really didn’t want to, but I wanted to honor my mother and my father and knew they would have wanted me to be strong.
Is your faith the core of your strength?
Had those life experiences not happened, would you be as strong as you are?
I don’t know. I didn’t think I was strong until I went through those life experiences, but I really am a strong person. They certainly did make me stronger. If you just go on, God will give you the strength.
Do you apply those life lessons to your work of passion at Fuzzy Friends Rescue?
Yes, I do. I do not believe that God will give you anything that you cannot handle. He has helped me get through many long days and many trying experiences.
Did you have fear? Were you afraid?
I didn’t really have fear. I just had just extreme grief and sadness, acute grief. It was very different because I’ve always been a very happy, upbeat person. My brother passed away first, and my mother eight weeks later. But after my brother died, before mother passed away, I had to go to the doctor. I said, “I think I’m losing my mind. I think I’m getting Alzheimer’s because I can’t focus; I can’t think.” He said, “No, it’s depression.” I was prescribed medication for depression. I was on this medication for nine months. Christmas morning, the first Christmas after my brother and my mother died, I went into a room by myself and I had a good cry again with God. At that point, I said, “No more drugs,” and I just quit cold turkey. You shouldn’t do that, but I did. I quit cold turkey on Christmas Day.
How do you pay your experiences forward?
I think God truly has given me a gift to encourage people. That’s what I do best and what I like to do. I have a friend who lost his wife last week. He called me Monday very, very sad and down. When the call ended, he said, “Oh, you’ve made me feel so much better.” I said, “You call me anytime.” I try to be a cheerleader to others.
If you could ask God one question, what would it be?
I would ask him why good people, who could make a positive difference, are called home at an early age and why others, who are bad, are still here?
What do you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered for giving back to my community, for my courage and for my commitment to helping those who cannot help themselves.
What inspires you?
I think my inspiration is need or being needed. Knowing that these animals have nowhere else to go. If we weren’t out there, probably 90 percent of these beautiful creatures would not have made it. So, the need and knowing that we’re making a difference inspires me to continue.
How did God direct you?
I had no business experience and hindsight is 20/20. If I had known I was going to be the founder of Fuzzy Friends Rescue, I would have majored in business instead of elementary education. When God speaks to your heart, He gives you passion and determination and the strength to see it through. I didn’t know I couldn’t do it. In the early days, people thought it would never last. They gave me a year because they said I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I said, “Well, they’re right. I have no idea.” But God knew what I was doing, and God has blessed us and given me the strength. In the early years, it was hard. We only had three-and a-half employees, and they had Mondays off. The board members didn’t know that they had dirty duty too. At Fuzzy Friends Rescue, there’s not one job that I have not done except give cats shots. I cannot give a cat a vaccination, but I’ve done every other job from scrubbing the floors, to mopping, bathing and grooming. You name it. I was there at eight o’clock every morning, cleaning kennels. At ten o’clock, we unlocked the front door for the public, and I put on another hat. “Welcome and what are you looking for?” I became the adoption counselor. You have to do everything. I’ve told people you cannot have any prima donnas at Fuzzy Friends Rescue. You’ve got to walk the walk, stay the course and do whatever it takes to keep things on track.
Do you see yourself retiring at any point?
Not completely and totally. My husband is 82, and I am 70. I’m not afraid to tell how old I am. I want to enjoy my life a little more. I would like to step away a little bit, but I’ll never retire totally because I am so committed to this and I’m a workaholic.
Now, can you give your beautiful granddaughters one pearl of wisdom or gift from your well-lived life experiences?
Don’t be afraid to follow your dream. Be bold and be courageous because God speaks to each of us in different ways. Listen to your heart, to your inner voice, because that’s God speaking to you. You are here for a purpose, to make a difference in your community, in this world, and you can do anything. If God puts it on your heart, don’t be afraid to follow your heart and your dream. Find your niche. If you turn to Him and ask Him, He will give you a plan, He will give you the strength, and He will direct your steps. We’re all here to make a difference in the world in which we live whether it’s with children, animals, the homeless or the elderly. Find your passion, and He will give you the strength, the wisdom and the determination to make a difference.