Darrell McCurtain, a candidate for Petco’s Unsung Hero award, may net Nuzzles & Co. a $50,000 prize | ParkRecord.com

Darrell McCurtain, a candidate for Petco’s Unsung Hero award, may net Nuzzles & Co. a $50,000 prize

Darrell McCurtain, the intake director of Nuzzles & Co. Pet Rescue and Adoption, comforts a puppy during an animal rescue mission at the Navajo reservation. McCurtain is one of five finalists for the Petco Foundation’s national Unsung Hero award.
Courtesy of Nuzzles & Co.

​To vote in the Petco Foundation’s Unsung Hero contest, visit petcofoundation.org/unsung-heroes. Voting closes on Friday, May 15, at 11 a.m. For information about Nuzzles & Co., visit nuzzlesandco.org.

Nuzzles & Co. Pet Rescue and Adoption may win a $50,000 grant that would help the Summit County-based nonprofit continue its work in rehabilitating and placing injured and abandoned animals with loving families.

The cash prize hinges on votes for Darrell McCurtain, intake director at ​Nuzzles & Co., who is one of five finalists for the Petco Foundation’s national Unsung Hero award.

Voting ends at 11 a.m. on Friday, May 15.

The Unsung Hero honorees are workers who have helped their communities toward Petco’s goals of improving the lives of pets, according to a press release.

The reward for all of us is finding homes for those who do survive…” Darrell McCurtain, Nuzzles & Co. intake director

“There are heroes in every community who dedicate their lives to helping animals and are true lifesaving champions,” said Petco Foundation president Susanne Kogut in the release. “Honoring these extraordinary people and telling their stories is our way of saying, ‘thank you.’ Perhaps these stories will inspire others to be heroes too.”

The Petco Foundation and celebrity dog trainer Victoria Stilwell are also honoring the five Unsung Heroes for their life saving efforts on behalf of animals with a $10,000 grant for their animal welfare organization, the press release said.

Stilwell traveled across the country documenting the work of these heroes in a series of videos that can be viewed at ​petcofoundation.org/unsung-heroes/​, according to the release.

McCurtain, who started at Nuzzles & Co. in 2003 when it was called Friends of Animals Utah, was selected for the award because he started a rescue program at the Navajo reservation in 2014.

Each month, McCurtain takes a team of veterinarians, technicians, volunteers and staff members to the reservation to rescue stray and discharged animals, provide flea and tick treatments and conduct spay, neuter and vaccine clinics.

“It’s a big undertaking, but we are reducing the number of unwanted animals that end up in shelters that would possibly be euthanized,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, but worth it.”

A pack of stray puppies await treatment during a Nuzzles & Co. rescue mission to the Navajo reservation.
Courtesy of Nuzzles & Co.

The team works with the Navajo, Ute Ouray and Ute Mountain nations as well as the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute, according to McCurtain.

“I’m Navajo, myself, and I knew there was an overabundance of animals on the reservations,” he said. “I also know there aren’t resources readily available for spaying and neutering, because there are only two or three veterinarians on the reservations. So people either have to go without vet services or they have to travel long distances to border towns to get their animals taken care of.”

Poverty adds to the animals’ woes, McCurtain said.

“There is about 50% unemployment,” he said. “So if it comes for (people) to choose between family and their animals, they will probably choose family. In which case, the animals go by the wayside.”

During each rescue mission, McCurtain and his team returns to the Nuzzles & Co. rehabilitation ranch in Peoa with 40 to 50 animals, which are mostly dogs, he said.

“All the animals come in injured and sick, and we have vet staff and vet techs to give the animals a chance to survive,” McCurtain said. “Some don’t survive, but we do the best we can.”

Although the coronavirus has forced the reservations into lockdown, rescue groups are still allowed to visit and to their jobs, McCurtain said.

“The businesses that we frequent are now allowing only a certain number of people in their buildings,” he said. “There are hand sanitizing stations everywhere, but it’s business as usual as far as helping the reservation animals out.”

Nuzzles & Co. will also transfer some of the animals they rescue to other rescue groups we work with in and around Utah and even up in Oregon, he said.

“We introduce these wonderful reservation animals to these groups, and that may spur them to start their own reservation rescue programs, which opens more opportunities for animals to find homes,” McCurtain said.

In addition to medical treatments, Nuzzles & Co. staff work with the animals that have behavioral and trust issues, according to McCurtain.

“Some animals end up staying with us for a few years, and we all celebrate when they are adopted,” he said. “I think the reward for all of us is finding homes for those who do survive.”

Although McCurtain said he would happily be the face of the Unsung Hero, he would rather the spotlight shine on the animals he and his teams rescue.

“I want people to realize these animals need help,” he said. “They need food, vaccinations, tick and flea treatment and homes. And we think a pet finding homes and a family to call their own is the most important thing there is.”

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