Jo Ellen Thomas cares for creatures great and small

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By Becca Owsley

Jo Ellen Thomas credits her farm heritage for a love of animals and her work ethic.


An educator for almost 40 years, she has continued to work limited hours in the school system since retiring in 2008.

“My passion seems to be children, dogs, pets and old people, not necessarily in that order,” Thomas said.

Her father had a dairy farm and taught her that “all God’s creatures have a purpose.” Some are meant for work, some for food and some for pets, she said.

On a farm, she said her family usually took care of the animals before you took care of yourself. She often found an animal abandoned by its mother and raised them on a bottle.

“You not only learn about the value of life, but the value and purpose all things have,” she said.

When her professional career serving children and families in the area ended, she wanted to find another way to help the community and that’s when she turned to the Hardin County Animal Shelter.

Her friend Vicky Ferriell described Thomas as one of the “most giving, loving, generous, woman she has ever known.

“She is passionate about her belief in God, her husband, family and all God’s critters,” Ferriell said. “Her dedication to support the Hardin County Animal Shelter is beyond words I can find to describe.”

When Thomas started volunteering in 2011, her husband, Rick, told her she couldn’t take home every dog. After getting to know the people who worked there, she wanted to make sure the community appreciated the work done at the shelter.

In 2012, she witnessed how the shelter cared for 103 chihuahuas discovered when authorities investigated an alleged puppy mill.

She became involved with PAWS to raise money for Hardin County’s new shelter on Peterson Drive and jumped in to become more and more involved. She started taking photos of dogs in need of adoption and helped create the shelter’s Facebook page.

She said there’s never a day she’s there that there’s not something to do. Thomas works with educating the community about the need to spay and neuter pets and takes her shelter dog, Ellie, to schools to talk about responsible pet ownership.

She admits she was naive when she started volunteering at the shelter and thought all pet owners were like her and cared for their pets.

She said it breaks her heart when someone drops off an old dog that has been with them all its life. Instead of caring for the pet at the end of its days, the person chooses to take it to a shelter.

Along with others, she helped form Friends of Hardin County Animal Shelter to support the shelter and help provide items needed that might not be in the budget. The organization currently is trying to raise money for an anesthesia machine.

Another part of her volunteer work is contacting pet rescue organizations to help find a place for animals that aren’t usually adopted, such as special needs and elderly dogs. It also is a help when the shelter is full and they need a place for pets to go.

She has helped move 170 dogs to rescues around the country.

“This is where I found myself being able to serve,” she said.

Through volunteer work at the shelter, she can work with children and dogs.

“It’s fulfilling and gives me a reason to feel like I can help the community and care for animals who do not have a home,” she said.

Her volunteer work at the shelter does not go unnoticed.

Jerry Foley, Hardin County Animal Control supervisor, said Thomas is one of those people who rolls up her sleeves and gets to work.

“She must have a battery that doesn’t run out because she’ll go, go, go,” he said. “She’s an awesome person and I don’t know what we would do if we didn’t have a Jo here at the shelter.”

Becca Owsley can be reached at 270-505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.

Getting to know Jo Ellen Thomas

  • Family: Husband, Rick
  • Pets: Some cats and four dogs — Clover, Ellie, Sam and Ollie
  • Favorite book: She likes mysteries and her favorite authors are James Patterson, Harlan Coben, Dean Koontz, Nicholas Sparks and Mary Higgins Clark.
  • Favorite subject to teach: Math, because as a student she struggled with it.
  • Favorite music: All kinds, it just depends on the mood
  • Favorite movie: Any movie with a dog in it, even though they often turn out sad. She loved “Where the Red Ferns Grow” as a child. She also likes “Message in a Bottle.”  
  • Favorite TV show: “The Big Bang Theory”
  • Sports: University of Louisville fan
  • Hobbies: Reading, quilting, making pies and gardening