Party Animals

By Beacon Staff

They’re all dressed up and looking for somewhere to call home. Thirty-two decorated dog and cat sculptures are heading to the auction block to help fund several nonprofit animal organizations across the valley.

Flathead Shelter Friends, Inc., Humane Society of Northwest Montana, Flathead Spay and Neuter Task Force and the Whitefish Theatre Company teamed up to host the “Mission: Pawsible” gala and auction on Sept. 11.

The event begins at 6 p.m. at the O’Shaughnessy Center in Whitefish, complete with “nibbles and bits,” as well as beverages, according to event coordinator Rebecca Lyman. There will also be opportunities for absentee bidders to participate.

During the auction, which benefits the four hosting organizations, 32 fiberglass cats and dogs will go up for bid. A local or national artist has embellished each critter with materials such as bark, metal, fabric, glass tile and cork, making each a unique piece of art.

One pooch, named “Montana Bird Dog” by its “groomers” Jamie Lyman and Olivia Pauli, is decorated entirely with feathers.

Then there’s “Bumbull,” a winged bulldog painted like a bumblebee, created by Heather Mull, and “Ace in the Hole,” a poker-playing dog complete with visor, cigar and hidden Ace card, by Sue Lawrence.

Another, by local artist Dawn Duane Evans, unites nature with a bit of rock and roll. Evans said she got the inspiration for her creation, “Inadogadavida,” from her cabin fever last February.

Itching to get outside, Evans was consumed with the urge to start digging in her vegetable and flower gardens. This sparked the inspiration for a garden-themed dog. She settled on “In the Garden of Eden,” but then remembered the Iron Butterfly song from the late 1960s, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”

There had to be an iron butterfly in the sculpture, she thought, so she called her sister-in-law in California, renowned blacksmith Heather McLarty, who agreed to create the metal insect.

“She made it for me, which was an honor in itself,” Evans said.

The dog sits on a rock base on wheels, which Evans’ husband devised to avoid a wooden foundation.

“I am really proud of that dog; it turned out like an entire piece of art, from the base to the nose to the colors,” Evans said.

Creating the sculpture was a “kick in the pants,” Evans said, because she has done entire art shows containing only canine subjects.

Evans said she has looked forward to the auction for two years, when the valley animal organizations initially put the call out to artists for this project. They decided to wait and see if the economy improved before moving ahead, according to Mimi Beadles, executive director of Flathead Spay and Neuter Task Force.

The tough economy did present challenges, Beadles said, especially when it came to finding sponsors to “foster” the cat and dog sculptures during the summer.

“It was much harder to get sponsorships with our economy than it ever was before,” Beadles said.

However, Beadles said the groups have seen a positive response to the decorative animals from the community, especially at the Whitefish Farmers Market, and she is confident about the upcoming auction.

“Mission: Pawsible” is the third such event the task force has participated in locally, Beadles said. The first was “Moose on the Loose” in 2000, followed by “The Great Bear Affair” in 2002. “Moose on the Loose” was the second auction of its kind in the country, Lyman said, following “Cows on Parade” in Chicago.

Lyman said she is excited about the auction because it’s really anybody’s guess how it will go. She arranged a similar event in Park City, Utah, last December that earned $300,000, which she attributed to a very special and involved audience.

“It was magical,” Lyman said.

Money collected from the “Mission: Pawsible” auction will be split evenly between the four groups, she said, adding that these organizations have rarely worked together in the past, despite their similar goals.

Now that the groups are collaborating, Lyman said she’s seen more cooperation between cities in the Flathead. Columbia Falls has especially come alive for this event, she said, powered largely by volunteer Sally Petersen.

“The collaboration of communities and groups has been a big part of this,” Lyman said.

Any money from “Mission: Pawsible” will go toward surgery costs at the Spay and Neuter Task Force, Beadles said. The group has performed about 20,000 procedures in the past 10 years, a quarter of which were done for free, she noted.

She was also impressed with the teamwork between the animal organizations and the theater company.

“It’s been fun collaborating with the other groups because we kind of work on the fringes with each other,” Beadles said. “It’s been fun to get to know their people better too.”

As for Evans, she said she considered but decided against bidding on her own sculpture to put in her studio. Artists can be disappointed in their work by thinking it should have turned out differently, but her dog was a rare piece of perfection, she said.

“This dog turned out just like I wanted,” Evans said.

Tickets to the auction cost $50 a piece and can be purchased online at www.missionpawsible.org or by calling 857-5371. Absentee bidding may be done online or on the phone.

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