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St. Louis shelter breaks ties with Zootoo

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 | 3:33 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — An animal shelter that won a $1 million makeover has severed ties with the Web site that offered the prize, after saying the contest didn't live up to its promises.

A lawyer for Stray Rescue of St. Louis, Ronald Compton, said Tuesday that the sponsor of the contest, Zootoo.com, has agreed to pay an undisclosed amount to the shelter.

"Stray Rescue is going to take over construction," Compton said. "We're all going to part ways, and hopefully it will be friendly."

Stray Rescue of St. Louis still plans to build a 16,000-square-foot shelter downtown, but will likely take another look at its costs and assess how much more is needed in fundraising.

The no-kill shelter, which rescues street dogs and works to find them homes, beat out shelters from all over the nation in a contest held by the Zootoo.com Web site last May. Zootoo.com is a pet lovers' social networking site founded by Richard Thompson, former chief executive of Secaucus, N.J.-based Meow Mix.

Stray Rescue's founder, Randy Grim, alleged in recent days that Thompson didn't keep his end of the bargain and that the shelter hadn't been able to collect the winnings.

Thompson has disputed Stray Rescue's account of what happened. Zootoo on Tuesday issued a statement saying representatives from the Web site and the shelter are working on a plan to "complete the award."

The Web site declined to release additional details until the plan is finalized.

Thompson previously said the contest rules pledged "up to $1 million in value" to include cash and donated goods and services. He has said Zootoo.com provided about $400,000 toward the makeover, but that Stray Rescue planned a new shelter that will cost much more than $1 million.

However, Grim has said instead his group wired Zootoo.com $170,000 of its own money — which it had budgeted for animal care — and that Thompson pressured him into begging subcontractors, suppliers and labor unions to donate their goods and services for the shelter makeover.

Grim had understood the $170,000, which helped pay for some preliminary work, would be reimbursed.

Meanwhile, Stray Rescue's donations have plummeted in the last year as donors believed the group was awash in money, Grim said.

Thompson previously said he was "absolutely flabbergasted and shocked" by Grim's statements.

A spokeswoman for Zootoo, Lee Makofsky, said a second shelter makeover contest is moving ahead this year. She said she thinks the animal shelters currently involved understand they won't receive a blank check for $1 million.


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