Lending a helping paw

The North Platte Animal Shelter facilitates abandoned dogs and cats. The shelter takes in strays and shelters them until they are claimed or adopted. Once adopted, organizations like Paws-itive Partners and Fur the Love of Paws are there to assist pet owners.

In 2009, two McCook girls sat down to have a lemonade stand. While that is par for the course of many childhood summers, Chloe and Sarah Dixon weren’t trying to make some extra summer cash, but rather were raising support for the McCook Humane Society.

That day, the two raised $9.81 for the McCook Humane Society. The group grew beyond the two sisters as they incorporated their friends in volunteer projects they conducted around the McCook area. As they did more projects, they deemed that their group of volunteers needed a name, and thus the McCook Cat Pack was born. The group now consists of nine members who range in age from 12 to 19.

Over its nine years of existence, the group has raised more than $24,500, a number that Chloe, now 19, finds staggering.

“Wow, really, we did that? Oh yeah, I guess we did,” Chloe said. She added that makes her feel “amazed, really; speechless and warm and fuzzy inside.”

That money has come from the sales of Cat Pack and Humane Society items as well as through various fundraising events like bake sales and tables at the McCook Heritage Days, The Cat Pack has also partnered with some local businesses to sell their items.

The girls first found the desire to contribute to the McCook Humane Society after they adopted their Maine Coon cat named Switch from the McCook shelter. The family came to love the cat and its life led to the next step of the Cat Pack’s journey.

For Chloe’s fifth-grade newsletter, she crafted a comic based on the life of Switch. After the McCook Daily Gazette found out about the comic, the paper brought Chloe on to continue the comic for the paper. The “Super Switch” strip ran for two years — 104 weekly installments that highlighted the cat’s adventures and clued in the town of McCook to the lives of the cat and its owners.

Switch’s life carried the Dixons into regular involvement with the MHS, and out of that, the McCook Cat Pack was truly born. Though Switch died in 2011, the Cat Pack did not die with it, but rather thrived.

“Our first calendar was in the fall of 2012 (September) through 2013 (a 16-month calendar). It was an idea that our shelter director Lorie Prestes said she had for some time and no one had taken the idea to the next level,” Dixon said.

The calendar initiative began with the group requesting pictures of pets from the McCook community. Then the group used the photos and included stories to create a calendar. It was not originally intended to be a fundraiser, but after getting sponsorships to cover printing costs, the group developed the concept they use today.

That concept involves community members submitting pictures of their pets the same as was done in 2012, but with each picture, there is an attached submission charge. Once pets are entered for the cost of $5, they are entered into the pool of pets submitted. From there it becomes a competition, and votes cost $1.

The cat and dog that receive the most votes become the year’s “cover critters.” But all submitted photos will be included in the year’s calendar. Last year’s calendar raised close to $3,500 for the MHS.

Currently, the calendar contest has 46 pets entered and has raised $979. That’s 48 percent of the Cat Pack’s goal.

The Cat Pack is not limited to calendar sales, though. It also sells hats, a new Cat Pack design T-shirt, and local shelter pet postcards.

“We sell shirts, which were funded by a Great Plains Communications IMPACT grant, at our events; 100 percent of each T-shirt sale is a donation to the shelter,” Dixon said.

“Seeing that shirt on someone, even boys, gives me goosebumps. Because knowing I helped start the Cat Pack and how it has evolved to benefit the shelter animals makes me proud and feel a sense of accomplishment,” Dixon said.

Sitting at the lemonade stand nine years ago, Dixon did not expect a future like this in raising money for the MHS.

“We had no idea it would grow like it did. We did not think of the future of it all; I mean each year we were just thinking of fun things to do with our friends,” she said.

As for the coming years, the group has one primary goal — to break $30,000 raised. They sit $5,500 away and are hopeful that after this year’s and next year’s calendar go out, they will eclipse that number.

The group knows they have to continue their fundraising as it has become a huge help to the MHS.

“The McCook shelter takes in an average of 50 to 75 animals each month,” Dixon said. “Today we average over $2,250 in donations every year for the shelter, and that is a big drop in fundraising if it just stopped.”

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