In less than two weeks, 32 impeccably groomed dogs and cats will be given homes in exchange for money that will serve to reduce the number of unwanted pets in the Flathead Valley.
On Sept. 11, the decorated fiberglass animals will be auctioned off at the O’Shaughnessy Cultural Arts Center in Whitefish to conclude Mission: Pawsible, the valley’s third public art fundraising event for art and animal lovers.
The “pawsible” mission of the event — a collaboration of Flathead Shelter Friends Inc., Flathead Spay and Neuter Task Force, the Humane Society of Northwest Montana, and the Whitefish Theatre Company — is to keep animals out of shelters by promoting responsible pet ownership.
The animals, provided by the Chicago-based art studio Cowpainters, consist of three different dog forms and one cat form. Thirty-two artists, or “groomers,” were selected earlier in the year and were given about four months to decorate their animals.
The completed animals were unveiled July 2 at a reception at the O’Shaughnessy Center, which also included a performance of “Go, Dog, Go” (an adaptation of P.D. Eastman’s children’s book) by the children of the Whitefish Theatre Company’s summer camp group.
The whimsical dogs and cats then were scattered throughout the valley at sponsoring businesses in Bigfork, Lakeside, Kalispell, Whitefish and Columbia Falls.
Among the animals are Ema Lou Braunberger’s tree-bark-covered “Wood Run the Barking Dog” at the Wave in Whitefish, Walker Davis’ floral sweater-clad and teacup-adorned “Bulldog in a China Shop” at Montana Frameworks in Kalispell, a ballerina atop Joan Ragan Kallay’s “Harlequin Romance” carousel figurine dog at Wright’s Furniture in Whitefish, and Sherry Spencer and Susan Muldown’s “Ms. Glacier Lilly,” a cat painted with wildlife standing upon an attached flower bed, at General Custard in Whitefish.
Renowned Park City, Utah, artist Josee Nadeau has created “Gloire de Glacier,” a blue Great Dane.
Also featured is the dog and cat pair, “The Travelers” at Kalispell Oncology, groomed by Myni Ferguson, the local artist responsible for coordinating the valley’s similar Moose on the Loose campaign several years ago.
The Mission: Pawsible fundraiser follows in the tracks of the Moose on the Loose (2000) and The Great Bear Affair (2002) campaigns, and is directly influenced by a recent event in Park City, Utah, called “Dogs of Bark City.” Rebecca Lyman, a part-time resident of both Park City and Whitefish, coordinated both canine-featuring projects.
Lyman, who also held a Moose on the Loose in Park City in 2003 staged after Myni Ferguson’s original campaign in Whitefish, says she arranged with the Whitefish Theatre Company to hold Mission: Pawsible after three Utah artists who had participated in Dogs of Bark City expressed interest in decorating an animal for another fundraiser.
Dogs of Bark City featured exclusively dogs, but Lyman says she decided to include cats in Mission: Pawsible because of the Flathead Spay and Neuter Task Force’s responsibility for cats in addition to dogs.
Lyman said the collaboration of the Flathead Valley’s animal groups is something she hoped to promote by bringing them together for the event.
“I really wanted all the animal groups to come together,” she said.
Some 20 percent of the proceeds from each animal will go to the artist and the rest will benefit the animal groups, who will use a sizable portion of the money to encourage responsible pet ownership through public education and outreach programs.
Carmen O’Brien, Treasurer of Flathead Shelter Friends Inc., says that the animal groups hope to raise awareness of the importance of spaying and neutering. They also plan to increase member visits to local schools to give talks to children, which “helps the kids to realize that if you don’t take care of your pet, it can end up in a shelter.”
O’Brien says another audience the groups plan to target is new parents who own a pet, saying that a dog or cat acting out due to jealousy of a newborn child commonly leads to the parents getting rid of the dog and bringing it to a shelter.
She says this problem can be avoided if new parents are educated on how to prepare their animal for the arrival of a new baby, particularly if the groups can make the information available at the offices of OB/GYN doctors.
Whitefish’s Moose on the Loose auction raised $150,500, and the bears of the Great Bear Affair were auctioned off for $112,400. Park City’s Moose on the Loose raised $426,000, and Dogs of Bark City raised more than $300,000.
Lyman says the highest selling dog from Dogs of Bark City was auctioned off at about $41,000.
The highest selling fiberglass animal from a public art fundraiser was a cow covered in Waterford Crystal from CowParade Dublin in 2003. Designed by British fashion designer John Rocha, it sold for $146,000.
The Mission: Pawsible gala and auction event will be held at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11, at the O’Shaughnessy Center in Whitefish.
To purchase tickets, make a donation, or find out how to place an absentee bid, visit www.missionpawsible.org or call 862-5371.