BROOKSVILLE — The Humane Society of the Nature Coast is a top 10 finalist in a competition among 23,734 animal rescue venues nationwide for a $1 million makeover of its small shelter at Wiscon and Mobley roads.
The news came Tuesday at the Humane Society of the United States Animal Care Expo in Las Vegas. When the local society was announced, executive director Joanne Schoch rushed to thank contest sponsor, ZooToo CEO Richard Thompson. "I almost knocked him off the stage,'' she said.
"I am so proud of my community. I couldn't live anywhere better," said Schoch, referring to the enormous outpouring of support from people who visited www.zootoo.com and added photos, videos and essays of their pets to advocate for the shelter.
Each hit garnered points for the society, with the top 20 point gainers making the semifinals. Then, Thompson visited the sites. He was welcomed by an ebullient crowd at the society's fifth annual Pet Expo in March, where he said he was impressed with the community support and the shelter's needs.
After the visits, the list of 20 was narrowed to 10. The Humane Society of the Nature Coast sits at No. 5.
Internet voting for the $1 million winner and first- and second-place runners-up will take place Monday through April 19 on www.zootoo.com.
First runner-up will be awarded $50,000, second runner-up, $25,000. The local shelter already has been assured $5,000 for finishing in the leading 20.
"We were the only shelter in Florida to qualify. That makes us a winner,'' Schoch said. "No matter who gets it, every animal is better off. (ZooToo) has gotten the word out, raised awareness and gained shelter volunteers."
The society hopes to improve the cat cottage, install more than the current 17 dog kennels, establish an emergency cat ward and feline maternity ward, and build more than the one current weather-proof dog run.
Schoch and her colleagues at the Las Vegas event — board officers Michele Curtis, Paul Montagne and Edie Norman, along with veterinary technician Cori Messenger and volunteer event coordinator Tracy Cain — have been wearing their ZooToo T-shirts since leaving Tampa for Las Vegas by air late last week.
An airline attendant asked Schoch about the shirts, and after Schoch explained, the attendant announced on the intercom that there was "a special group of passengers."
Not one to shrink at an opportunity to speak, Schoch explained the shelter's efforts to the passengers, many of whom applauded and promised to sign up at www.zootoo.com and vote for the Nature Coast.
The vote needs to exceed Hernando County, Schoch said. For instance, in the running is a Minnesota shelter in a college town with thousands of students already logged on and poised to tap their keyboards.
Local public relations specialist Vince Vanni and Jeff Webb, recent founder of Jeff Webb Communications and retired editor of editorials for the Hernando edition of the St. Petersburg Times, will ply their trade for the Humane Society.
"I'm trying to do all I can to generate interest beyond the bounds of Hernando County," said Webb, noting that he has a school district contact who will encourage students to contact their peers and relatives here and elsewhere to vote for the local shelter.
Beth Gray can be contacted at email@example.com.