Annual Mutt Strut back on agenda

For the past 12 Years, the Mutt Strut has been a staple feature of the annual Pine Hill Festival. Onlookers watch neighborhood pooches prance their way down a Blaylock runway, showing off for the crowd.

“Everybody loves puppies and dogs,” said Sandra Kirk, the administrative assistant to the Stone County Economic Development Partnership and an event coordinator for Pine Hill Festival. “It adds a lot of value to the event,” Kirk said.

The Mutt Strut always begins at 2 p.m. in Blaylock Park on the Saturday of Pine Hill Festival. This year, the festival will take place on Friday, April 30 and Saturday, May 1.

Doggy gift baskets will be awarded to the fastest dog, the smallest, the biggest dog, the best-looking, and best costume. Animal Care Clinic sponsored the awards.

All entrants must be friendly to people and other animals. All dogs must remain on a leash at all times and have proof of current rabies vaccination. It costs $10 to enter.

The Strut supports the Stone County chapter of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Kirk was a volunteer for the organization when the event debuted at the 2009 Pine Hill Festival.

“In the beginning, it was small, but people loved it,” Kirk said.

Kirk said the Mutt Strut has remained popular through the years.

The first year, the ASPCA was still known as the Wiggins Animal Rescue, and the organization had yet to move in to its current location. There was no physical shelter in the early years. Volunteers adopted pets by organizing a network of foster homes.

As the organization has grown to provide more services and shelter more animals, expenses have grown, even with the various grants and generous donations from the public.

It costs around $15,000 to operate each month.

Now, the ASPCA operates out of a small building on Highway 26. On top of providing veterinarian services to many animals in the shelter’s care, the shelter also provides transportation to move cats and dogs to more urban areas where they are more likely to be adopted. The shelter maintains four employees.

“The Mutt Strut was one of our very first fundraisers,” said Katie Stonnington, who founded the SC ASPCA.

Stonnington said the event remains one of the strongest sources of support for the shelter because it provides three separate sources of donations.

Besides the $10 Mutt Strut entry fees, the event also raises funds by selling T-shirts. Businesses can sponsor the event to get free recognition and promotions for their support. Businesses, organizations, and individuals can also compete to raise the most donations for special recognition and donated door prizes.

This year, the group that raises the most donations will win a pair of Costa Del Mar sunglasses donated from the Vision Center. Second place will receive a gift certificate from Alexander Hardware. Third place will get a complimentary doggy spa day at Diva Dogs Grooming Salon.

In appreciation of the community support, the ASPCA partners with local businesses to give back to donors.

“Right now, we put the business sponsors on T-shirts and a banner,” Stonnington said.

Stonnington cannot remember how much the event raised the initial year. But the Mutt Strut remains one of the most successful source of revenue for the shelter.

In recent years, the Strut has raised as much as $5,000 and every penny goes toward caring for the animals.

“This year, it’s going toward spaying and neutering community animals,” Stonnington said.

The funds to spay and neuter pets will be provided to the public through vouchers to help prevent an increase in puppies and kittens, which could otherwise be left on a roadside or dropped off at the shelter.

“We help ourselves in the long run if there are less unwanted pets out there,” she said.

The shelter’s average annual intake is 1,200 pets.

Although the city of Wiggins has one animal control officer, the county does not have anyone dedicated to animal control. The SC ASPCA does not receive any revenue from the city or county, so the animals rely solely on the kindness of the community.

Stonnington said the community regularly rallies to make sure the animals have what they need.

“We’ve got a lot of generous donors,” Stonnington said.

Stonnington said it is not uncommon for festival-goers to donate just because the shelter is present.

She hopes to see a variety of entrants in the upcoming Mutt Strut.

“If they can walk, please come,” she said. “If you don’t have a dog, just come by and see us and support us, we love getting support, both financially and through words of encouragement.”