Denise Phillips finds her calling with A New Leash on Life


Madison resident Denise Phillips is a self-proclaimed “chain fosterer.” In March 2017, Phillips stumbled upon a request from the nonprofit A New Leash on Life to foster 10 puppies. A lifelong animal lover, Phillips answered the call.

“I decided to surprise my husband with this new adventure. Boy, was he surprised,” Phillips said. “Being a fellow animal lover, though, he embraced the journey and challenge with me, and it has absolutely changed our lives. I can never imagine going back now that I know the great need out there.”

Phillips, the 2005 Bob Jones High School valedictorian, had opened a private tutoring business after teaching at her alma mater and James Clemens High School. It was at this time the fostering opportunity presented itself. “It was incredible to have my tutoring clients arrive early, stay late and even come on off days so they could share love with my current foster dogs,” Phillips said. “It was a pretty snapshot-worthy part of life, and my fosters always went to their new homes very socialized.”

The first litter of foster puppies put Phillips on a new track in life. She is now the Tails Adoption Center Manager at A New Leash on Life’s Madison thrift store that opened in July. The organization plans to open an adoption center at the same site in the future.

“We bought the properties of 1292 and 1300 Slaughter Road in June. We jumped in with painting, flooring and shelving and announced we were starting to accept donations,” Phillips said. “The next few weeks were magical. Our grand opening was July 20, and we had a record-breaking day for A New Leash on Life.”

Proceeds from the thrift store will fund veterinary services for the animals. The organization makes sure all animals receive wellness exams, vaccinations, preventions, deworming, spaying or neutering, microchipping and any other special need, such as heart worm treatment and surgery. “We rely on donations to stay afloat. We have adoption fees for our fur balls upon adoption, but this covers less than half of all of our vet bills,” Phillips explained.“We therefore have thrift stores so people can support us via having their household items they no longer need turn into financial support for homeless animals.”

Phillips knows what it takes to secure these animals a loving home. She and her husband Nate have fostered hundreds of dogs, ranging from those born in the Phillips’ home to those in their golden years. “Nate and I have fostered dogs that have had FHO surgery, heart worm treatment, Parvo, coccidian and missing limbs,” Phillips said. “We find these dogs know when they’re in a safe situation, and they pour out love.”

Besides being a “chain fosterer,” Phillips is also a “foster fail,” a title given to those who end up adopting a dog or cat they have fostered. Phillips’ first foster fail was Rizzo, a Doberman cattle dog mix. Her second foster fail was Soldier, a Chihuahua the Phillips began fostering on a Veterans’ Day weekend a couple of years ago. “Rizzo has been a blessing, and his brothers and sister love him,” Phillips said. “Our little Soldier now is instrumental in showing our incoming foster dogs the ropes.”

Besides Rizzo and Soldier, the Phillips have two other dogs–a 4-year-old Lab named Peyton and his 3-year-old sister named Andie.

“Our house is unconventional, as we have converted windows into ramps with doggie doors so all of our dogs have indoor and outdoor access when they please,” Phillips said. “They are big goofy heads, and we love them so much.”

Having animals was something Phillips said she longed for as a child. She was born with asthma and had an extreme allergy to pet dander, but after years of weekly allergy shots, she finally built up enough immunity for her parents to get the first family dog–a beagle named Jack. “Until Jack, I was the kid that much preferred stuffed animals over baby dolls,” Phillips said.

With Phillips as the Madison lead, A New Leash on Life aims to help even more animals from high-kill shelters by opening the Madison Adoption Center, with plans to house dogs and cats.“I might be biased, but how fun of a day would that be, to shop and visit animals all in one trip?” Phillips said. “People can visit, show love to our fur balls, volunteer and, of course, adopt.”

Phillips said she encourages others to foster. The majority of the animals in the program are in foster homes until they can find their “furever” homes. The organization offers a support crew to help out and even offers lessons in science and psychology. “It is a way to literally save lives because we can pull that many more from high-kill shelters, where all of these dogs and cats are on the euthanization lists,” Phillips said,“and it is always fun to celebrate when your foster finds that loving home.”

Phillips said she is thankful to live in a community like Madison where the response has been outstanding. “We have had people donate items with unique backstories in hopes that it will help the cause in raising money for our rescued animals–and it does,” Phillips said. “We have had retired engineers and people of all trades help us with building needs and people who work so hard to organize incoming donations and put them in the sales floor.”

Like her Madison community, it is passion that drives Phillips. She said she could not have foreseen running an animal adoption center, but she did see herself serving others–and serving is exactly what she is doing as contributes to the larger goal of helping Alabama become a no-kill state by 2025. “I always struggled with wanting a profession that involved helping in some degree and teaching,” Phillips said. “I am beyond blessed that my life encompasses both of these spheres.”