COLUMBIA — All that remains between the Central Missouri Humane Society and a shelter makeover valued at up to a million dollars is a six-day voting period.
After a pet parade Saturday to give one last push for publicity and awareness, the Humane Society's chance at a shelter makeover is out of its hands.
When: 11 a.m. Monday through 11 p.m. April 19
How: Voting is only open to registered users. To create an account, go to the Web site, register as a new user, select the Central Missouri Humane Society as your shelter, upload a picture and click the link in the registration email. Registered users can vote for the shelter of their choice up to 10 times per day.
The public can begin voting on Monday to determine the winner of Zootoo.com’s Shelter Makeover II Contest. The Humane Society made the list of 10 finalists thanks largely to the efforts of Amanda Huhman and Libby Burks, two 13-year-olds with an intense love for animals. After a strenuous 12 weeks of fundraising, recruitment and advertising, the girls are now left to hope Columbia residents provide enough votes for the Humane Society to win the online contest.
For their final push before voting, the girls and their mothers planned the pet parade, which they hope to make an annual event. Saturday morning’s parade involved more than 120 people and 80 dogs walking through downtown.
Decked out in Zootoo.com and Humane Society shirts and bandanas, the dogs and owners filled two blocks as they walked down Broadway, yelling to viewers to “Vote ten times a day!” in the online contest, which begins at 11 a.m. Monday and ends April 19 at midnight.
“If we can just ask people to vote, that seems little compared to what the girls have done,” Angela Huhman, Amanda's mother, said.
The Web site will post voting rankings sporadically during the contest, so the girls can track their voters’ participation. After six days of voting, the winner of the makeover will be announced April 27.
As attention to the shelter and the Zootoo.com contest has grown, some controversy has arisen involving last year’s winner, Stray Rescue of St. Louis, which claims to have only received $3,000 of the expected $1 million. The girls, however, are not letting this damage their confidence in the contest.
“I think Richard is definitely very trustworthy,” Amanda said of the Zootoo.com founder. “He’s made it very clear that they don’t just hand out a million dollar check, they go through different sponsors to provide supplies and equipment.”
Libby, who found the contest in a magazine, thinks the guidelines were clear from the beginning.
Despite the recent controversy, the girls said their enthusiasm and hope to win are as high as ever.
“We are obviously optimistic,” Amanda said. “If we weren’t, we wouldn’t have gotten this far.”
They also strongly believe theHumane Society deserves the makeover.
“We’ve taken so many counties and we’re an open-door shelter, so every animal that comes in we can’t turn away,” Libby said. “And we’re one of the top puppy mill states, so we take in all the stray dogs.”
Amanda said the shelter takes in 10,000 animals a year, so overcrowding is a serious concern for the shelter, which is struggling to maintain its open-door policy.
In publicizing the Humane Society's need, the girls have become the face of the cause and are now well known among shelter volunteers and supporters.
“They’ve been really visible and do tons for the shelter,” said Kim Stonecipher-Fisher, who walked in the parade with her dog Coco.
The contributions from these teens have not gone unnoticed by the Humane Society’s staff, either.
“They’ve done everything from dog walking to extraordinary events like this,” shelter relations assistant Halley Taylor said Saturday at the parade.
Taylor said the shelter director was originally skeptical of the contest, but the girls “wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
“They were the driving force behind all this," she said. “They inspired our shelter. We’re beyond grateful.”
Even before voting begins, it’s clear Amanda and Libby have made a great impact on the shelter. Adoptions and donations have increased, the girls said, and community awareness is much higher.
“We walk in, and instead of being sad, we are upbeat and happy,” Amanda said. “And the people have a whole new perspective about working there.”
Their mothers also appreciate the enormity of what the girls have done.
“They know what’s going on, but I still don’t think they realize the impact that they have made,” Liz Burks said. “Whether we win or not, they’ve made an incredible difference in spreading awareness for our shelter.”
And it’s OK if the Humane Society doesn't win, the girls agreed. For one, the shelter will still win a nice prize: $50,000 for second place, $25,000 for third or $10,000 for the remaining 10 finalists.
But the reward of all their efforts goes beyond the money, they said.
“What the contest has done for the shelter, nothing else could’ve brought that awareness and volunteers,” Liz Burks said.
Efforts have spread to other organizations, too. Machens Toyota donated a car to be raffled off May 2, and Delta Gamma is holding a “Bark in the Park” event to benefit the Humane Society April 18.
“I hope we inspire other kids and youth in general,” Angela Huhman said. “Kids can make a difference, that’s clear.”