We had the good fortune of connecting with Judy and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Judy, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I graduated from Texas A&M University in 1976, I began my chosen profession then, teaching in the public schools. I had wanted to be a teacher since I was about 5 years old. It is a profession that requires great skills, passion and empathy. Though I taught my students the skills they were required to learn in 5th grade, I learned the most from them. They taught me the imperfections in families, the community we lived in, prejudices they experienced, the struggle of generational poverty, the horrible abuse some children lived with every day and that most of all, they often had no voice. I incorporated animals in my classroom because I learned the usually natural connection that children and animals can have and that animals can heal people.

While I taught, I became involved in volunteering with local nonprofits and groups that helped children, families, the LGBTQ+ community, and animals. I was elected President of a local animal shelter and a local LGBTQ nonprofit. I saw the connections easily. I knew as a teacher to reach the public about a serious issue that was not always “sunshine and lollipops” that I had to be creative and educate the public in a fun, engaging but educational way through a community event. I have created and founded several community wide events to raise funds for serious community issues that needed to be addressed. Thanks to great supports from boards, I worked with friends and hundreds and hundreds of volunteers, to raise well over $500,000 for local nonprofits helping families, community members, and homeless animals.

I did three years of research with my husband traveling all over Texas to learn how to run the best Wiener Dog races in Texas. In 2007, I brought races to College Station.They were a big success! In 2018 I founded the nonprofit, Wienerspiel, a 501c3 nonprofit. In addition to Wiener Dog and Wanna’ Be Races, we have several other events to raise money for homeless animals. Wienerspiel’s mission is: “Raising funds for non-profits who help homeless, unwanted, and neglected animals as well as organizations who support the human/animal bond and advocating in city and state governments!” The money raised goes to heavily vetted 501c3 animal nonprofits and nonprofits that support the human/animal bond.

WIenerspiel is a member of the Bryan/College Station Chamber of Commerce, works with the Humane Society the United States Texas Council and the Texas Humane Legislative Network on humane animal legislation with local city governments the Texas State Legislature and Congress. Wienerspiel has had huge wins locally in the last year proposing the Humane Retail Pet Store Ordinance in the City of College Station and the City of Bryan. They are now two of the 11 cities in Texas to pass an ordinance banning a retail pet store from selling puppy mill puppies or kittens. If a retail pet store wants to sell dogs or cats, they must partner with a 501c3 nonprofit or the local shelter and homeless animals. This will put a huge dent in keeping puppy mills from our community.

A unique part of Wienerspiel is our mentorship of Aggies. We have 8 Aggie interns who meet with the board monthly at our Board meetings and are equal participants in our discussions. Our largest fundraiser each year in the Wiener Dog and Wanna’ Be Races in October. This includes over 300 Aggie students and about 30 community members. Finding volunteers for our events is never an issue with the support of students who love animals or want to be involved with community nonprofits. Mentoring of these future leaders is very rewarding and gives them actually great opportunities for growth as they go out into the world.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I was a public school teacher for 30 years. I then was encouraged to start my own educational consulting business by a superintendent I was doing contract work with. I worked with 9 Texas school districts who were struggling and in danger of losing their state accreditation. The happiest times of my life were in classrooms helping students and teachers. I always seemed to take on challenges that I could see a solution for but others did nothing. Often I was told that my idea was great but wouldn’t work. Once I was committed, I was able to gather the right people and resources along with motivation to accomplish what became a success. In 2011-2012 I ran for the elections to the Texas House of Representative when the Legislature slashed 5.1 billions from the public schools. I never dreamed I would do that but was driven. It was one of the experiences that was the most valuable to me.

Nothing is every really easy. I overcame a fight with head and neck cancer which almost took my life a few times over a one year period during 2016-2017. But I won!! I am very passionate about my community being welcoming and people feeling great about where they live. I reside in the city where Texas A&M University is located which brings together a mix of people of many backgrounds and cultures. Texas A&M Veterinary Teaching Hospital is also located in my city so my drive to help pass city ordinances and state laws that promote humane treatment of animals is often fulfilled. As a former public school teacher, of course speaking to groups is never an issue so I use my skills to educate the community about the need for strong public schools and that Bryan/College Station should be the model city of how animals should be treated by citizens. I have been honored for my work and drive by the University, my profession, many organizations and the city. One of the greatest honor was being nominated by peers and community members for the National Jefferson Award started in DC by Jackie Kennedy Onassis in 1962. I won locally in 2015 and had the great honor of representing the Brazos Valley in Washington, DC where I was surrounded by the most creative and driven community volunteers anyone could ever meet. That will always be one of the top recognitions I will always cherish. With all that said, the most rewarding experiences I have had in my sixty-nine years were those of teaching children and their excitement for even the smallest things in life as they learned. There is nothing more rewarding that being a public school teacher and being loved, trusted and appreciated by a child. Second to that is a wagging tail of a dog or a head butt on your leg by a cat you have just rescued. Those are the greatest measurements of success to me.

I have learned to follow my passions in issues I greatly care about. I have learned to listen to what people see in you and pay attention to the strengths they see in you, because those are your strengths you may not realize. Pay attention to the behaviors of people more than their words. These have helped me as I have matured.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
T0ur of Texas A&M University Campus, the A&M Gardens and the gravesite of President George Bush and Mrs. Bush at the George Bush Library.

Most of my friends share my love of animals so I would secure a tour of the Vet School.

Walk around and check the shops and restaurants of Downtown Bryan.

I was on the Parks Board of the City of College Station so of course would show off our beautiful city parks.

We would go to Northgate where I spent my college days playing dominos and drinking beer with friends and still continue to visit.

I would take my friend to visit a local school and see all the fantastic teachers as they teach. I would also drop in on my husband’s psychology class at A&M. He is in his 57th year as an A&M Professor and is also an Aggie.

To eat and for entertainment I would start with Shipwreck Bar and Grill. My 18 year old one eyed rescued Chihuahua, Wienkie was their mascot before we lost him at 18 in 2021. A painting of him hangs on the wall of the bar and grill. Amico Nave is across the street and a high end restaurant owned by the same owners and has fantastic pasta and seafood. We would visit the Village Cafe an Aggie woman owned restaurant and her wine bar next door as well. Walk-ons is a fun place to eat and get the Aggie Sport feel so that would be a must and our dogs could sit outside with us while we drink adult beverages. Our only gay bar, Halo is fun! First Friday in Downtown Friday would be a must as well.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I owe my many successes and recognitions in my community and life to number one above all: my former students. I taught in the classroom for thirty years. After retirement, I started my own educational consulting business and worked with high poverty failing public school districts. I learned from the children where the gaps are in communities, what is ignored by community leaders and that teaching empathy to children by using animals is invaluable. The lessons a bunny or a therapy dog can teach children transfers often to their relationships at home, at school and future relationships with partners. Animals are powerful teachers. With that said, I recognize every animal who has been there for a child who had a bad day, listened to a child read a book or taught a child that animals have feelings, too and need people to be their voice.

I also greatly appreciate my husband, Arnold LeUnes, a Professor at Texas A&M who supports my passions in the community as a volunteer who often is focused on helping my community and the state become a more humane place for people and animals.

Wienerspiel’s Vice President, Tyra Watts who is a full time public school teacher who helps educate our community and elected leaders about the need for humane treatment of animals as we propose ordinances and legislation on the local and state level is a partner who definitely needs a shout out. She is invaluable. . No one is a success alone. I work with a great “pack” of volunteers.

Website: www.wienerspiel.org

Instagram: https://instagram.com/wienerspiel

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/judy-leunes-a6795a51/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/wienerspiel

Facebook: Wienerspiel@gmail.com

Yelp: Wienerspiel@gmail.com

Youtube: Wienerspiel@gmail.com

Other: wienerspiel@gmail.com

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutHTX is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.