When other little girls had crushes on Hollywood heartthrobs, I largely reserved my affection for journalists. I thought Walter Cronkite was the bee’s knees. Yes, I was a peculiar child, but I’ve always loved knowledge and those who share it. And I’ve particularly always loved journalists who were a voice for those who couldn’t speak for themselves. So, when the world loses a fine and caring journalist, I can’t help but feel as if my younger self was just dealt a devastating blow. Such a blow just came when the world lost reporter Brad Woodard, who passed away earlier this month.
Brad Woodard never attained Cronkite-like fame, but that didn’t seem to matter to him. He told the stories that he wanted to tell. He spoke out on behalf of abused and neglected horses, dogs, cats and on behalf of people in need . . . he was the voice for the voiceless. It’s easy to discount someone who loved doing animal stories as a fluff journalist, but Woodard was far from that.
Brad Woodard passed away shortly before his 52nd birthday, but he still accomplished a great deal during his professional career. Woodard worked in Savannah, GA, Nashville, TN, Minneapolis, MN, and most recently, in Houston, TX. He spent time anchoring, producing, reporting and scriptwriting.
He was the winner of twenty-six Emmy Awards, seven National Genesis Awards, three National Press Club Awards, a Sigma Delta Chi Award, New York Festivals World Medal, a National Epilepsy Foundation Distinguished Journalism Award, numerous regional awards, and a National Edward R. Murrow Award. Two of his National Press Club Awards were for his reporting on animal issues.
Woodard’s segments appeared on NBC’s “Today” show almost 200 times, as well as other national programs. How did a local reporter achieve such acclaim? The answer to that question is simple. He did it one heartfelt story at a time!
Just Say, “Whoa!”
Coworkers at KHOU-TV in Houston jokingly referred to Woodard as the “Pet Detective.” That nickname was not without justification. Woodard filmed multiple stories about the thousands of U.S. horses being slaughtered for meat. In 2006, he made people aware of the fact that two companies in Texas served as slaughter facilities that provided horsemeat to Japan and European countries. And, in future years, he reported on the fact that U.S. horses continue to be transported to Mexican slaughterhouses, where tens of thousands are slaughtered for meat.
In 2009, when horse neglect in Texas skyrocketed, Woodard was there with the stories. A lagging economy and drought in a state where the horse population nears one million created the perfect storm for equine neglect. While some were advocating for horse slaughter, Woodard’s stories brought the attention back to the problems associated with over-breeding.
Not all of Woodard’s horse stories were tales of horror. He also did uplifting stories like the one about a quarter horse named Indio. Indio was at the Equine Recovery Center in Dickinson, TX. He had a suffered a serious injury that would have normally resulted in him being euthanized. Instead, a portion of a hind leg was amputated and replaced with a prosthetic. One of the co-founders of the Equine Recovery Center, Steve Saltzmann, is a veteran of the Iraq war and suffered from PTSD. He credited Indio with helping to lift his spirits.
In 2012, when ninety horses were rescued from their flooding stables, Woodard was there. Where else would he have been?
Getting the Scoop on Dog Stories
One of Woodard’s favorite stories was about young Annaleise Kimmell who used her sixth birthday party as a means to help homeless dogs. Instead of birthday gifts, she requested that guests to her superhero-themed party bring donations to help the Melrose Park Neglected Dogs Project in Houston. Two fully loaded SUVs delivered the supplies purchased with Annaleise’s birthday money. And Woodard was wise enough to note that the girl in the superhero costume was a real live hero.
It was not uncommon for Woodard to spend months investigating a story. Such was the case with a puppy mill in Panola County, TX. Using a hidden camera, he documented the neglect of the dogs in their grim conditions. Needing more evidence, Woodard purchased two of the dogs and had them examined by a veterinarian. Lest you think it was all a part of the job, Woodard named the puppies Polly and Lucy and helped them find their forever homes. It wasn’t enough for Woodard’s findings to provide enough information to have the puppy mill shut down. He also found evidence linking the mill to a Houston pet store.
Woodard’s story on dog fighting aired nationally on CBS News in 2007. The graphic images were difficult to watch. But Woodard understood that people needed to be made aware of the underbelly of society. He seemed to feel that the majority of mankind is good at heart and, if he just told them about the atrocities, people would rise up and demand action. How can we change what we do not know exists?
When owners of a home in an upscale neighborhood in a Houston suburb crossed the line from dog breeding to animal hoarding, Brad Woodard was there to tell story and to the bring attention to the rescued dogs. He knew that media attention was the best way to find them loving families and better living conditions.
Another upbeat story of Woodard’s featured an organization called PAWS Houston. Rather than bring in therapy dogs to hospital patients, PAWS brings in the patients’ very own pets. Of course that would have been a story that would have appealed to an animal lover like Brad Woodard.
It was two years ago when Woodard filmed the story of “bee wrangler,” Jennifer Scott, who relocates colonies of bees to areas where they are needed. Whether Woodard was bringing viewers stories to spur them into action or stories to make them feel a little better about our world, I would like to go on record as saying that I think Brad Woodard was the bee’s knees! He will be missed.
Here’s a great retrospective on Brad’s career that I think you will enjoy.