When asked if she was always an animal lover, Grace Wilson smiles and looks at her husband. “Yeah, Jeff kind of teases me about that,” she says. “He says he should have looked at my baby pictures.”
“She’s with a dog, she’s with a pony, she’s with a rabbit.” Jeff laughs. “I should have run, but they never showed me those pictures. They held them until after the wedding.”

Those photographs help explain why the Wilson’s contemporary residence in Taylor Mill is also home to — at last count — five dogs and 10 cats who are family members, along with up to 10 foster cats and one foster dog. (And here’s a pleasant surprise: Their comfy place is clean and odor-free.)

Some 13 years ago, Grace became interested in volunteering at the Boone County Animal Shelter. “There had been newspaper articles talking about the need for some volunteers, and that’s when I decided ‘Well, all they need is one good volunteer, and we’ll be able to save all these animals from being euthanized’.”

It wasn’t long before Grace and Jeff realized the scope of the situation. “There were approximately 34,000 animals in the Tristate area that were euthanized each year, and that’s when Jeff and I went ‘We might be good, but we can’t save 34,000 animals per year’.” The couple decided to focus on pregnant animals, as well as other more adoptable dogs and cats that wound up in the county shelters.
Today, the couple still runs Wags and Whiskers Rescue: a shared passion that became a second occupation. Grace works as a manager for Cincinnati Bell. Jeff is a Bell retiree who now works for the Internal Revenue Service in Covington.

Through Wags and Whiskers, the Wilson’s place adoptable pets in foster homes until a suitable owner can be found. Those individuals usually find the Wilsons through their web site (www.WR.petfinder.com), seeking to adopt an animal.

“Probably the most famous was Sandra Bullock’s florist, the one that did her wedding flowers,” Grace recalls. “She adopted a Great Dane mixed puppy, and paid our people to drive it from Northern Kentucky to Wyoming.”

The couple seems to have found a rewarding niche. They deal only with animals from shelters, despite the almost daily phone calls from folks wanting them to shelter a stray dog or cat. “That’s why we’ve changed our answering machine,” Grace chuckles.
This doesn’t mean the Wilsons cannot offer assistance when called upon to help out with a non-shelter animal. “We get a lot of calls about feral cats — cats that are kind of wild,” Grace notes. “We’ve even gotten a call about a pot-bellied pig. We don’t take pot-bellied pigs, but we’ll go out and teach you how to research the web, Google it. We actually helped somebody find a home for pot-bellied pig.”
The Wilsons also know dozens of other animal rescue operations, including those that help injured wildlife. Many of those rescuers are retired people who have a place set up for round-the-clock care, especially for injured birds.

“There are certain legal reasons why we don’t get involved with wildlife,” Grace explains. “Once you become involved with rescue, you start building a network of individuals that you really trust, so if we have a wildlife situation come up…we have friends we can call up.
To help control the pet population, the Wilsons developed a $25 spay and neuter program in cooperation with four different veterinarians. “Anybody in the Tristate can take advantage of that,” Grace points out. The program isn’t limited to cats and dogs; animals such as rabbits can be “fixed” as well.

“Rabbits are popular,” Jeff notes. Halfway through 2007, the program has spayed or neutered about 750 animals, and will easily surpass the 1,000 mark by year’s end. Details of the program are also available on the Wilson’s web site.
Their work hasn’t gone unnoticed by the community. In 2006, Grace was honored with an Outstanding Woman of Northern Kentucky Award, sponsored by the Kentucky Post, Northern Kentucky University and Thomas More College. Its purpose is to recognize  women whose lives exemplify achievement, service, integrity, perseverance and leadership. Grace was hailed for her animal rescue work, along with her mentoring of entrepreneurs.