BROOKSVILLE — After months of heroic efforts by a group of animal lovers and their friends, the Humane Society of the Nature Coast is one major step closer to a $1 million makeover.
The local group learned Tuesday that they finished No. 5 among 23,734 pet adoption agencies around the United States in an online contest sponsored by Zootoo.com.
By finishing in the top 20, the group is guaranteed a minimum award of $5,000. Zootoo.com, an Internet site of pet information and products, will visit the home sites of the 20 semifinalists. Zootoo's CEO Richard Thompson is scheduled to check out the shelter at Wiscon and Mobley roads about 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
The competition, which began last fall but took on urgency by the contestants in recent months, was based on points awarded for Zootoo memberships at no charge, hits on the organization's Web site and submissions by pet lovers of photos, videos and paragraph essays of their four-footed friends, noting their interest in the Humane Society of the Nature Coast shelter.
Thompson's travels will help Zootoo whittle down the 20 finalists to 10. His judging will be based on need and community support.
Humane Society executive director Joanne Schoch is planning "a huge pep rally" at its Nature Coast Pet Expo this weekend at Tom Varn Park. The rally, which Thompson will attend, is set for 1 p.m. Saturday.
"People coming to the rally is critical," Schoch said, "to show community support for the shelter."
In thanks for the support already contributed to the Zootoo endeavor, the society is waiving its usual $5 admission donation to the expo, which runs 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission will be free. "We want everybody to come," Schoch said.
Even after Zootoo's visit by Thompson, the contest won't be over. After his selection of the 10 finalists and their posting on the Web site, the public is invited to vote April 13-19 for their favorite pet agency to receive the makeover or an expansion.
While $1 million is earmarked for the top winner, second place will receive $50,000, and third place, $25,000. If Nature Coast is in that group, Schoch promised to do "a happy dance."
Her priorities are improvements to the shelter's cat cottage, which houses up to 60 felines at a time; and adding 20 kennels to the canine wing, which now accommodates only 17 dogs.
The society has been turning down in recent months a waiting line of residents needing to give up their pets due to home foreclosures, job losses and moves to smaller or pet-restricted living spaces.
Whatever the contest outcome, the local society is gaining fame.
Schoch has been invited to speak April 6 at the Animal Care Expo in Las Vegas. Her seminar topic: "Award Winning Programs on a Small Budget."
Beth Gray can be contacted at gray firstname.lastname@example.org.