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Teens seek $1 million makeover for Humane Society

Thursday, February 26, 2009 | 8:33 p.m. CST; updated 7:39 p.m. CDT, Thursday, March 19, 2009
Amanda Huhman, left, and Libby Burks, both Columbia Catholic School students, teach Christine Yedinak how to sign up on zootoo.com, a Web site intended for pet lovers. Huhman and Burks are trying to win a $1 million makeover for the Central Missouri Humane Society by getting people to sign up for the Web site and vote.

COLUMBIA —The Central Missouri Humane Society is steadily moving up the ranks in a national competition for a $1 million makeover from zootoo.com

And much of the credit goes to two Columbia Catholic School students, Libby Burks and Amanda Huhman, who brought the zootoo.com contest — and the Humane Society's stated needs — to the public's attention. In the span of several weeks, the Humane Society has risen to fourth place in the makeover competition.

“It’s definitely very exciting, and we love that we can get the word out about zootoo.com and about the shelter,” Amanda said.

Zootoo.com is a user-generated Web site that allows pet-lovers, pet-service companies and manufacturers to share information. In each of the past two years, it has given away a $1 million makeover to what it bills as the most-deserving shelter in the country.

Richard Thompson, the founder of zootoo.com, said that the criteria for makeover winners are pretty straightforward and that the Humane Society appears to fit it.

“We look for absolute need.  We look for community support," Thompson said.  "We’re not going to come into a city where the mayor and city council aren’t going to get behind this thing and be helpful, and it looks like you guys are on the right track.  I just want to say good luck to the girls.”

Thompson said zootoo.com will look for a local builder or contractor to step up and help out with the makeover. The organization wants a community that supports its shelter and will sponsor it, taking ownership of the shelter and the animals in it.

Amanda and Libby, both 13, have risen to the challenge. The required age to volunteer at the shelter is 18, so both girls bring along their mothers to volunteer with them.

Zootoo.com users earn points toward a new shelter by posting stories, advice and reviews of the shelter. They also can gain points by posting pictures or videos of their animals, referring friends to the site, adopting pets and even entering pet competitions.

“There’s things that we can do as a community, that are little things, that can make a big difference,” Amanda’s mother, Angie Huhman said.

Thompson, the zootoo.com founder, also said his site has a significant affect on communities.

“There’s about 3,500 shelters in the country, and there are a lot of people that want to donate food or do various things, but there is no one really shining the spotlight on the need of all the shelters in America,” Thompson said. “If nothing else, all the people in your community now understand that there is a problem, there is an issue, there is an opportunity to help the shelter. When you bring the shelter and the community together, more pets get adopted.”

The Humane Society has made headlines in recent months because of consistent crowding. And last month, heavy rain caused it to flood.

The girls’ parents also spoke about what happens if the shelter doesn’t win the renovation.

“We’ve come this far. Everybody’s excited. You can’t let the shelter down. Can you imagine the staff, raising their hopes up, and then, all the sudden, ‘Sorry, we didn’t win'?” Angie Huhman said.

“Hopefully, the people that have shown their support by becoming members of this site will continue, whether it be volunteering some time or helping work on fund-raisers when the contest is over,” Libby’s mother, Liz Burks, said.

Columbia already is responding in a big way. The Humane Society, in a matter of months, has risen to fourth place in the first phase of the contest. More than 5,300 users are registered as shelter friends, and  companies such as Treats Unleashed, All Dogs N Cats, Bass Pro Shops, Walmart, Orscheln's Farm and Home, T’s Etc., PETCO, Williams Keepers LLC, Hoss's Market & Rotisserie and D&H Drugstore are chipping in. The girls also are getting zootoo.com support from anonymous volunteers, local schools and churches, media outlets and city government.

T’s Etc. is providing shirts for the girls to sell. The popularity of the shirts prompted the girls to set up a Web site to market them with the volunteer help of Jim Robertson. It is expected to be up and running soon.

A fundraising dinner called "Night at the Pawparazzi" is being held at Chris McD's on March 9. The girls will be donating a dog party, complete with dog invitations, party favors, hats, cakes and treats, for eight dogs. Tickets are still on sale at Chris McD's.

Also, the Huhmans and Burks designated March 13 as “Going Blue for Zootoo Day” and are asking Columbians to wear either their blue zootoo.com T-shirts or a blue shirt they already own. There also will be an open house at the Humane Society that day.

Amanda and Libby stay busy. Libby also attends dance class four times a week, and both girls are taking full course loads at their school, but that doesn't stop them from working on the Humane Society project.

“I’m really excited. I didn’t think we’d get here this fast. When we met with the elderly (at Bethel Ridge Estates) the other day, it was really fun teaching them how to use zootoo. It keeps me busy, but it’s fun,” Libby said.

The competition is still in its first phase, in which shelters strive to acquire enough points to get into the top 20. That part of the contest ends March 13.

In the second phase, zootoo.com staff will visit the top 20 shelters and pick the 10 they think are most deserving of new facilities. In the final phase, which begins April 4, voters will determine the winning shelter. A zootoo.com account and profile picture are required to vote.


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Comments

Charles Dudley Jr February 27, 2009 | 3:56 a.m.

Signed up.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr February 28, 2009 | 5:11 p.m.

If any of the CMHS board of directors read this please check your email I sent to you today. It is rather important.

Thank you.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro March 2, 2009 | 12:45 a.m.

I think it's a shame that the "Humane Society" has been killing healthy dogs and pups for way too many years. I am shocked that people drop off their now "unwanted pets" without realizing how likely that these animals will be killed by this "humane society."
I believe that any "humane society" should only allow animals which have been determined, by a vet, to be in untreatable pain or uncurable debilitating illness or disease, to be destroyed.
A "humane society" would not associate itself with a dog pound, who's job to pick up dogs in the wild, leads to warehousing and destruction of healthy animals.
A "humane society" would not ignore local property which has been sitting empty for, in my guess, 5-10 years, which has existing animal enclosures, outbuilldings, office buildings and garages, to remain vacant as friendly, healthy
creatures of god are being killed for "lack of space."
It doesn't take a rocket science to see that the poltical distance and uncooperative boundaries between MU, the city and CMHS has not been resolved because preserving the life of loving, appreciative, abandoned, hounds is not as important as Parks and Rec, Bicycles, Land Barons, and Power.
What good is a million dolars if its being given to those who could have done better with land and resources which have been sitting right in our lap for oh so long?
Let's not disappoint these teens, even if they don't win
the million. And don't put the million into the wrong pockets if they do.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz March 2, 2009 | 1:44 a.m.

The problem is not with CMHS, it is with owners who don't spay/neuter their pets, don't raise them properly, and don't consider them lifelong companions. One of the cats my family adopted from CMHS was given up "because too much was going on" - almost an exact quote from the former owner. How is this magical property going to resolve that problem?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr March 2, 2009 | 3:30 a.m.

John Schultz that was the same type of excuse on both of my little house dogs as the excuses were:

"We just do not want him". This on a pure bred Papillon Male with papers that they would not give up either who is the life of any room full of people. This dog is a total clown and can entertain a room full of people all by himself.

"We just cannot afford her" on the dearest and most loving little Phalene/L.H.Chihuahua mix mutt female you will ever look into the eyes of.

What I do not understand though is why the CMHS has not worked harder in getting itself aligned with the national A.S.P.C.A. type Humane Society Group and garner in funding from that avenue of a nation wide resource. Maybe I missed something here and they are but if not then what was or is the reason.

I'm still waiting for me email responses to come back from those I emailed the other day about this project and the location of the facility ray is talking about but still no emails from anybody but ray. I even gave my cell number so there will be no excuses.

If I do not get responses soon I am going to grab a local reporter and ray and I will go back out to this abandoned facility and have a chat to see what or how the reporter sees things about how it could be used.

Then maybe we will see how public opinions can be moved along in the proper directions by stuffing it face first into the local media.

As ray stated it is not right that such a huge facility that can easily be refurbished and remodeled be allowed to sit vacant when CHMS has the most need.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr March 2, 2009 | 3:35 a.m.

Added Note:

John Schultz the main complain I hear from CMHS is lack of room. This facility would help with that issue I assure you.

I think ray knows a couple people to he could grab up and take with us out to this facility.

Also if developed right it could house the Boone County Animal Control and a City Dog Pound thus creating the proper facility and coordinated agencies under one roof that this city deserves.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr March 2, 2009 | 6:25 p.m.

Well I did not hear back from anyone on the CMHS Board Of Directors. I did manage to talk via email to other concerned citizens on this issue and the feasibility of the old Sinclair Farm Facility on Sinclair Road.

This facility is owned by the Sinclair Nursing School through M.U. and as far as I can tell so far is just an abandoned facility just sitting there all by it's lonesome. All utilities are on site already.

The project would require a huge refurbishing/restoration type of undertaking but with so many concerned 501c3's in this area that want to help CMHS on this I do not see why it would not be feasible at all unless some official in a high place put the block on the project.

Ray Shapiro and I are doing more research on this project that Ray came up with.

The question is if CMHS has been looking to expand or just to relocate to a bigger facility how come this facility on Sinclair Road has been over looked for so long?

As I saw posted before that the City was looking into even possibly helping on this project of helping to bail out CMHS if it came to that but what about M.U. and the County too?

The facility is big enough that you could build it for CMHS,County Animal Control and a City Dog Pound if the people in the powers that be would just sit down and work out all of the details if at all possible.

If this facility could be used and made to work the Humane Society could actually go into the business of being humane once again instead of being a warehouse for the disposal of unwanted animals. This could go a long way too of being able to join up with the actual A.S.P.C.A. in their nation wide Humane Society program too if CMHS is not already affiliated.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr March 2, 2009 | 6:38 p.m.

Wonder of wonders Maria Furey President, CMHS Board of Directors got ahold of me via email this evening.

Now the ball is rolling in the right direction.

(Report Comment)

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