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.
To learn more about the shelter makeover contest, go to zootoo.com.
“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.