A care home nurse who has 15 snakes, five Staffordshire bull terriers, 250 domesticated rats, two cats and eight sons might soon need to find room – for a prestigious award.

Karen Wilcox George’s animal collection, including Burmese pythons, might make some people squeamish. Indeed, the animal-lover isn’t so keen on her grandchildren’s tarantulas.

But she’s no real-life Doctor Dolittle. Colleagues, residents at Greenhill Manor care home near Merthyr Tydfil, and their relatives, hold her in such high regard for her devotion to human beings, too, that they’ve all been involved in nominating her for an award.

The grandmother has worked at Greenhill Manor in Duffryn Road, Pentrebach, for the last four years. She’s been hailed for going beyond the call of duty to ensure people nearing the end of their lives are looked after in a proper and dignified manner.

Colleagues have described her as “an exceptional team member who exceeds all standards of care on a daily basis.”

Community manager Karen, who runs a 20-bed end-stage dementia unit, has been shortlisted for the Excellence in Palliative and End of Life Care Award category at the Wales Care Awards.

The annual awards, held in the Welsh capital, are now in their 15th year and showcase best practice across a vital sector.

They will be announced at City Hall in Cardiff on November 17 at a glittering presentation evening hosted by tenor and radio presenter Wynne Evans, better known as Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV ads.

Lian Pearsall, hospitality services manager at the Hallmark care home, said :”Karen always goes up and above the call of duty, enhancing residents’ lives in all that she does on a daily basis.

“She has exceptional relationships with relatives and residents alike. Karen always treats others as if they are her own family.

“Karen assists and inspires the care team. She always goes up and beyond the call of duty demanding a high standard of excellence in her own practice as well as others.”

Karen, of Henry Street, Bargoed, worked when she left school in a betting shop before becoming a care assistant in her mid-twenties. It was her curiosity that led to her taking her nursing entrance exam.

She recalled: “I worked with an excellent nurse. Everything she did, I wanted to know how and why she was doing it. She pushed me to take the exam.”

But when she qualified, she was unable to find a full-time hospital job so, with bills to pay, Karen moved into the private care sector in Merseyside.

She and her team in south Wales now provide support for residents, and their families, also. Helping grieving relatives, who may have had mixed emotions when their family member moved into the care home, doesn’t end necessarily at the time of death.

Karen said: “I love my work. It’s making sure there is the best possible experience for everybody. People deserve compassion and dignity.”

She said: “We provide support for residents and their families. We get to know the ins and outs of lives. When people put someone in a home they can have mixed emotions, relief and guilt.”

After hearing she had been shortlisted for an award, modest Karen, shy about her age, had asked a colleague: “What did you do that for?”

But she added: “It’s an honour. I’m looking forward to the night.”

Mario Kreft MBE, the chairman of Care Forum Wales, said the Wales Care Awards had gone from strength to strength.

He said: “The event is now firmly established as one of the highlights in the Welsh social care calendar.

“The aim is to recognise the unstinting and often remarkable dedication of our unsung heroes and heroines across Wales.

“The care sector is full of wonderful people because it’s not just a job it’s a vocation – these are the people who really do have the X Factor.

“If you don’t recognise the people who do the caring you will never provide the standards that people need and never recognise the value of the people who need the care in society.

“We need to do all we can to raise the profile of the care sector workforce – they deserve to be lauded and applauded.

“It is a pleasure to honour the contribution of all the finalists. Each and every one of them should be very proud of their achievement.”