Holly Reynolds is quick to say she is an activist, not an advocate. From the corner of her floral couch, the 100-year-old spends her days with her rescue dog Chloe on her lap as she makes calls to state and national legislators about bills with the goal of furthering animal welfare.
“I got involved with animals in a simple way,” explains Reynolds, who served with the American Red Cross during World War II, following her graduation from LSU in 1941. “I had fallen for a GI over in the United Kingdom during the war. Once we returned home, the marriage just didn’t last. That was one of the lowest points in my life. I think what pulled me out of it was getting a dog.”
Reynolds adopted her first dog in 1947 and named him Dandy in honor of his Fourth of July birthdate. Having been sent to boarding school at the age of 12 and never having a pet of her own, Reynolds says she was not expecting the love and attachment that she quickly felt toward Dandy. When told she had to choose between her dog and her demanding Red Cross job, she had no hesitation in her choice to leave the job and find a new one.
“There were other jobs, but there wasn’t another Dandy,” recalls Reynolds. “The decision was simple.”
Just three years later, Dandy passed away unexpectedly. Rather than mourn and move on, Reynolds took her pet’s short life as motivation to better the lives of other animals both in her small south Louisiana community and the world.
“Dandy had touched my life in such a special way,” says Reynolds. “I wanted to do something in his honor.”
She began researching and working for animal rescue organizations, eventually starting one of her own in Covington in 1953 before moving to Baton Rouge after her retirement from recreation work in 1977. “I had built a home in Covington that I was planning to eventually die in,” explains Reynolds. “But when I heard about Baton Rouge’s dismal shelter situation, I knew I needed to expand what I had started.”
Cue the birth of the Capital Area Animal Welfare Society, which remains the oldest humane organization in Baton Rouge and the city’s only no-kill shelter. Before the days of Facebook events and email blasts, the only way to build a movement of this kind was to take to the newspaper.
“In June of 1979, Smiley Anders included a mention in his column about what I was trying to start,” says Reynolds. “Within a few days, I had over 30 calls from people interested. I set up a meeting at the Main Library, and that was it.”
Since then, Reynolds has also established the Coalition of Louisiana Animal Advocates, which focuses on advancing animal welfare through legislation, and has seen major changes in the way animals are treated both in Louisiana and beyond.
“You can’t watch the news or pick up a newspaper without hearing about a dog or cat for adoption,” says Reynolds with a smile. “When they talk about extreme weather on the news and don’t mention bringing your pets in before talking about plants and cars, I always call the news station to complain. It’s about taking action constantly.”
Reynolds’ tenacious example has inspired people nationwide. “The president of the National Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, D.C., made the trip all the way down here for my birthday party,” says Reynolds, who celebrated turning 100 just weeks ago. “I thought, ‘You’re too important to take time out of your schedule for me!’ It was such an honor.”
Reynolds has been presented with numerous awards from organizations including the Humane Society of the United States for her lifetime of service to animals. However, as she notes, her lifetime and her contributions are nowhere near over.
“The fact that I’m 100 is very surprising to me. At one point, I never even expected to see the new century,” explains Reynolds. “I gave up my car a few years ago, but I can still do all of my work from the phone. I call PULS Line every day to check on bills and keep track of legislation, and then I call my friends to tell them to call their legislators. My goal is to encourage. You don’t know how much the little things you do can accomplish.”