Animals, Contests, and Holiday Goodwill
Campaign managers, underage voters, and donkeys? Yes, this year the “Pet Contest”, part of the 19 Days of Norwich, was full of surprises! It was a close race between the two donkeys, Thelma and Louise, Bosko, an English Springer Spaniel who was the winner the first year, Oscar, a sweet mix who belongs to two young girls, and even a dog Trixie, who had recently passed away.
The Pet Contest has been part of the 19 Days of Norwich for the past three years. The 19 Days of Norwich is a fundraiser during the first 19 days of December. Businesses throughout Norwich donate a percentage of their proceeds to the Upper Valley Haven. The 19 Days project grew out of the ideas of both buying local during the holiday season and giving back to the community by donating to the Haven.
Dan Fraser, of Dan & Whit’s in Norwich got the idea for the pet contest when he was re-evaluating the success of the first year. He felt like the first year seemed too focused on the commercial aspects of buying local and so, he said, “The second year I wanted just to do a bunch of different things that would hopefully involve all ages and different interests, you know because some people are very into their pets. [They might] pay $800-$1000 in votes for their pets that they wouldn’t necessarily donate in another way.” To apply, an owner submitted a picture and a check for $15 by the first of December, then each vote for a particular animal cost $1.
That year they also had other events such as a spaghetti dinner, a concert by the Bel Canto Chamber Singers, and more.
The first year of the pet contest, in 2014, was successful enough that Dan decided to continue it the following year. But in 2015, he hardly had enough entrants to spotlight on the listserv, and the question arose of whether to continue the contest the next year.
Dan decided to see what happened in December of 2016 and that turned out to be an excellent call on his part. The Pet Contest “exploded,” he said. Among the other animals already listed, Dan & Whit’s received a last-minute write-in candidate, Mali, a rescue from Africa.
Five of the owners became “campaign managers” for their pets, advocating on the listserv and advertising “Meet the Candidate” opportunities. Conversations began to fly paralleling it to both national and local election politics. Then, one day, a woman wrote a whole post about how she was going to report them for illegal politics such as allowing underage voters and buying votes, and it only grew from there.
“People would get up in the morning and couldn’t wait to see what the post was for the day involving the pet contest. People told me they forwarded those posts to people all over the country; they were so funny,” Dan remarked.
As the 19 Days grew to a close, Bosko and Oscar were neck-in-neck in the competition. To Dan, it seemed as though every day he announced that one or the other had pulled ahead. He might have been rooting for the owners of Oscar, just a little bit.
“The girls [who own Oscar] were so cute. They had canvassed the neighborhood asking for dollar donations from all their neighbors and brought in 35 one dollar bills one day – it was just so cute. So, I was really happy that they won.
And the last day, this man came in who said he had a dog named Oscar once and it was his favorite dog, so he was voting for Oscar. He put down a big check for Oscar that sort of pushed it over the edge.”
Over the last three years, Dan has learned a few things, and for this coming December, he has a couple of new ideas in the works.
Ransom with Thelma and Louise
One of the most important things for him is to try and get the widest variety of mammals, reptiles, birds, etc. as possible. In calling out for cows, goats, horses, and more farm animals, farmers shared with Dan that they cannot submit pictures of their animals because calling any single one of their farm animals a pet puts them at risk of losing their agricultural tax status. One change will be to make sure the contest is called the Animal Contest.
Another big difference is that he is hoping to have an online polling website set up so that people can vote and donate from wherever they are. This option will be perfect for those of us who don’t make it into Dan & Whit’s as often as we might like, especially around Contest time.
Finally, while the proceeds from the rest of the 19 Days of December will continue to go to the Upper Valley Haven, the funds raised from the Animal Contest will be split 50/50 between the Haven and the Upper Valley Humane Society.
And, of course, even with changing the name to Animal Contest from Pet Contest, Dan still wants any entries. “We had a pet rock one year. That was great.”