COLUMBIA — Wieners roasting on the grill. Kids throwing a football. Radio tunes blasting from a KTXY/106.9 FM truck. Dogs and puppies roaming everywhere.
The scene at the Central Missouri Humane Society on Big Bear Boulevard on Friday afternoon had all the trappings of a perfect party — and for good reason. Hundreds celebrated Blue for Zootoo Friday and the society’s No. 1 ranking in the national race for points in zootoo.com’s Shelter Makeover II contest.
The shelter entered the contest in January ranked 859th. But in the frenetic weeks since, it has steadily risen through the ranks to grab the top spot. If it keeps the first-place ranking until 10:59 tonight, the end of the points phase of the competition, it will win a $10,000 prize and a chance at a $1 million shelter makeover. With more than 1 million points so far, the shelter is more than 200,000 points ahead of the second-ranked competitor.
Halley Taylor, the shelter's relations assistant, passed out blue and orange balloons to children at the celebration, with Delilah, a golden retriever, and Small Fry, a corgi-dachshund mix, alongside. Taylor brought different dogs out of the shelter at the top of each hour to meet the partyers.
Taylor shared the sense of excitement at the event.
“The community’s come out and said this shelter matters to them,” she said.
Taylor said that the Humane Society’s board will decide how to spend the $10,000 if it wins, but she predicted it will go toward the shelter’s immediate needs.
It was Libby Burks and Amanda Huhman, two seventh-graders at Columbia Catholic School, who got the ball rolling on the zootoo.com contest.
“We started with 250 points and nine members. Now, we have over 9,000 members and 1 million points,” said Libby, who was all decked out in blue for the celebration. “We got really far with the community’s support, and we’d like to say thank you to all.”
With large blue sunglasses, Amanda shared Libby’s enthusiasm.
“It’s really exciting that we’ve gotten this far,” Amanda said. Both girls’ parents were at the celebration supporting them.
Chuck Huhman, Amanda’s father, worked the grill for a good chunk of the day.
“We have plenty of hot dogs,” he said as he gave them another turn. “It’s good to see the community’s all together to get behind what the girls started. … It’s all for the 1 million bucks.”
Liz Burks, Libby’s mother, described her reaction to the girls’ work as “total amazement … considering what’s been accomplished in such a short amount of time.”
She recalled that Jan. 15 was the first time Libby logged on to zootoo.com.
Widget Ewing, the girls’ social studies teacher, showed up to offer her support as well.
“If they could get this, they could reach out to other humane societies,” she said of the shelter.
Ewing remembers the girls showing her how to get onto zootoo.com to help earn points for the shelter. Members can do so by posting journal entries, pictures, reviews of pet products and videos, or by inviting friends to join the site.
Patty Forister, executive director at the shelter, said she is proud of the community’s support.
“It’s a dream come true so far,” she said. “I hope the best for them (the other shelters), but I think Columbia’s made its choice.”
Forister said the shelter has averaged around 50,000 to 80,000 points a day. She’s confident it will finish at No. 1.
The Friday affair included computer stations where people could get help earning points, a face painting table, a large poster board for signatures, a table full of free pet goodies from Petco and a pet boutique table with merchandise from the society and zootoo.com. There also was a ring made of hay bales where the society showed off puppies needing adoption.
In the second phase of the shelter makeover contest, representatives of zootoo.com will visit the top 20 shelters on Thursday. Amanda, Libby and Humane Society board members plan to arrive at the shelter in style to greet them, first riding a trolley, donated by White Knight Transportation, down Broadway between U.S. 63 and Providence Road, then heading north to the shelter.
After visiting the top 20 shelters to meet with staff, talk with supporters and examine the condition of the shelter, zootoo.com will narrow its list of contenders to 10. That list will be announced April 7 at the Humane Society of the United States Animal Care Expo in Las Vegas.
“Whether we win or lose, it’s fantastic to know so many people are on our side,” Forister said.
The final phase of the contest will be April 7 through 24, when Americans will be able to vote for the shelter of their choice up to 10 times a day if they have a zootoo.com account and a profile picture.