Country singer-songwriter Makenzie Phipps knew in her heart that the pit bull terrier named Swanson who found his way into her local shelter was ultimately going to die.
"He had no control of his back legs, his spine was raised, and his ears were cut by normal scissors," Phipps, 20, tearfully recalls to PEOPLE. "It was just a terrible situation. I just knew I had to find a way to help."
While Phipps ultimately couldn't do anything about the abused dog's ultimate death which ended up occurring the week before Christmas last year, she knew there was a way to put her growing stardom to work and help other dogs in need. So, she created a weekly social media program called "Take Me Home Thursday."
Sara Kauss/Getty Makenzie Phipps
"It's a way to showcase these dogs and help them get into their forever homes," says Phipps of the segment, which features shelter dogs up for adoption at The Mercer County Animal Shelter in Bluefield, West Virginia. "I go to my local shelter twice a week, and I pick which dog has been there the longest, and I just go from there. I'm just trying everything in my power to not only save them, but help more people get educated on being responsible pet owners."
It was just January of this year that the musician started volunteering at the shelter. "I bring treats to them, and I walk them, and I train them," she explains. "It's the least I can do."
Armed with a sweet demeanor and sweeter voice to match, there is no doubt that the Virginia native is spreading her wings a bit with her sassy new single "Drag," which premieres exclusively on PEOPLE.
"I would say every girl could relate to [this song,]" says Phipps, who grew up in a "very religious household."
Casaundra Sheppard Photography Makenzie Phipps
"Temptation is just something everyone deals with now and then," she details. "'Drag' refers to that something that you've been wanting to do for a while or something that you know you shouldn't do, but you're just like, 'I just got to try it for the first time and see what happens.'"
And she knows what you are thinking. "No, I have never smoked," Phipps laughs. "I don't think I'll ever do that. My lungs are very important to me."
She has, however, gone through plenty of moments indirectly described in "Drag" where she had to make decisions that could change the course of her life and, especially, her still-young career.
"I started performing when I was just 14 years old, and there were just so many different things that were challenging," says Phipps, whose recent cover of Alan Jackson's "I Want to Stroll Over Heaven with You" went viral earlier this year and has since amassed over 1.5 million views. "Looking back, there have been some things that I have taken a risk on. I knew it could set me back a bit or it could get me to that next level."
Nevertheless, Phipps says she's a big believer in following one's gut.
"You need to take any opportunity you get and know that anything is a learning experience," says Phipps, whose cover of "Amazing Grace" blew the door wide open on her young career. "If you don't do it, you're not going to grow. For the longest time when I was younger, I would hold back on trying new opportunities or trying new things. I think that really did set me back for a while because I was just living in fear. Now, I just kind of go with the flow with my music. I just put it all in God's hands."