Friday, November 16, 2012

Pageant princess seeks to ‘Keep Kitties Warm’

Community service for competition benefits shelter

Express Staff Writer

Three kittens cuddle up at the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley on Wednesday. Samantha Blakelee’s project would help keep these kittens and other shelter animals warm throughout the winter by collecting blankets and “stuffies” for them to snuggle with. Photo by Roland Lane

Hailey 6-year-old Samantha Blakelee is learning that along with tiaras and sashes, being a beauty queen comes with responsibility.

As part of her bid to compete in the Mini Miss Idaho contest in February, Blakelee is collecting blankets, stuffed animals and food for shelter animals. Called “Keep Kitties Warm—and Puppies, too,” the project is Blakelee’s bid to serve the community.

Blakelee was chosen as Sun Valley’s delegate to the Mini Miss Idaho contest in February and will be competing against 6- and 7-year-old girls across the state for the title. Her mom, Shannon McKey, said that Blakelee became interested in the pageant circuit after watching the reality show “Toddlers and Tiaras.”

“She was watching ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ and I said, ‘Honey, it is not that way,’” McKey said with a laugh. “Her perception is what you see on the show, the girls dress up pretty, they do little dances and smile big, but they don’t show the community involvement or responsibility that comes with actually carrying a title.”

McKey said she contacted a friend of hers who used to do pageants, who connected McKey and Blakelee with the Mini Miss pageants. 

Though community service is not a requirement to participate in the statewide competition, McKey said that she made it a requirement for Blakelee.

“I want her to see that it’s more than going up on a stage and looking pretty,” she said.

Blakelee said that she wants to be a veterinarian when she is older, and McKey said she thought that working with the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley would be a natural fit. McKey and Blakelee have a black Labrador retriever that was rescued from a shelter in Caldwell, so Blakelee was familiar with the shelter’s mission.

Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley Manager Robin Potts said that collecting blankets, stuffed animals, pet treats and food is a good way for younger children to get involved with the shelter.

“Stuffed animals that they no longer need or want are great for us, bedding is great, used leashes, collars….sometimes they just donate dog biscuits and bags of food,” Potts said.

Though all of the dogs sleep inside at night and are rotated through outdoor kennels depending on weather, Potts said that many of the dogs seem to appreciate having extra blankets when they are outdoors.

“Sometimes it’s something for them to lay on, and sometimes it’s something for them to chew on,” she said with a laugh. “[And] they love their stuffies.”

Potts said that many younger animal advocates come up with creative ideas to raise money for the shelter, like having lemonade stands or asking for donations instead of gifts at birthday parties.

“They do all sorts of creative things,” she said.

Blakelee has set up collection bins at Hemingway, Hailey and Woodside elementary schools where students can drop off donations. She will also promote her project at Woodside Elementary School during an assembly on Nov. 21, alongside shelter mascots Miss Kitty and Bernard. Collections will continue through the winter.

Shelter says spay and neuter program a success

The Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley announced last month that thanks to its free spay and neuter clinics, the shelter has seen significant decreases in local pet overpopulation. Executive Director Jo-Anne Dixon said that the shelter is less crowded than before, and is more able to absorb seasonal influxes of puppies and kittens, as well as focus more on training and enrichment. “We are now able to absorb [seasonal influxes] into our regular population, quickly get them vaccinated, altered and adopted out into the community, resulting in a much better quality of life for all of our animals,” she said.

Kate Wutz:

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