Big appetites and demanding diners are common at the San Antonio Zoo. During feeding time for the giraffes, it’s evident.
The zoo’s many exhibits require a large payroll to keep the place and its wild personalities in order. And one woman takes care of all 500 employees.
“The people here that I work with are so dedicated, and it's a different feeling than any other job I've ever had,” said Jo Luecht-Medlin, the human resources director at the San Antonio Zoo. “This is their livelihood and their life, they love it here."
She loves it here, too. Medlin started out working the front gate in 1990, taking tickets at a seasonal job after she left active duty in the Army. She felt right at home at the zoo and never left.
“I love people, I love animals,” she said. “And it just was a good fit."
Over the years, she earned a degree from UTSA, and a better job in the payroll office. Today, 27 years later, she's the human resources director at a place where humans are in the minority.
"It's a beautiful wilderness in the middle of the city, it's awesome here," she said.
But her devotion to animals doesn't stop at the zoo. Five years ago, she launched a nonprofit called Mystery Dog Rescue to help find forever homes for stray dogs like Emily, a terrier mix with bright eyes and a shiny brindle coat.
"I wanted it to be foster-based. I wanted these dogs to come live in a home so that they could see what it was like to live in a home, to have love, to be brought out of their shell, because a lot of them, once they hit the shelter, they just shut down,” she explained.
Emily had done that, cowering in a cage until she joined Johnathan Wilson and his foster family.
"When we picked Emily up, she was scared, alone, frightened,” Wilson recalled.
Now, Emily's clearly better. She’s active, affectionate, and ready for adoption. Wilson says that Jo's identified a real need among San Antonio's stray animal population and made a commitment.
“She's devoted her life to it, this isn't just a hobby for her, this is a devotion. And so really seeing her work with the animals and bring this all together in her job and her personal life is really inspiring," Wilson said.
Why call it Mystery Dog? It's based on the first dog she fostered.
“People would say, ‘What is she?’ I didn’t know, she was a mystery, so I named her Mystery,” she explained. “And I named the rescue after her because most of them we get in, we don't know their story, we don't know their breed for sure.”
She gets the stray dogs and cats from other shelters that need relief or from people who’ve found them and want them adopted to a suitable forever home. Foster families are volunteers, like the Wilsons, who keep the pets until adoption.
“They come to us as mysteries and leave us as life-long friends,” she said.
She's an animal lover with a cause, and an infinite number of life-long friends, animal and otherwise. That's why Jo Luecht-Medlin is another one of the people who make San Antonio great.