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Animal Homelessness? These Gals Just Grin and Bare It

Calendar babes of all sizes and ages take it off for local animals

Calendar babes of all sizes and ages take it off for local animals

When the Internet shoppers who purchase this pet-of-the-month calendar slap down their plastic cards to get 12 months’ worth of tasteful, tongue-in-cheesecake Southern belle photos, they can feel confident their money won’t be funding Briana’s Botox injections or Jenna’s implants. This money is going to the real pets.

The calendar, called Pearls and Paws: Bare Because We Care, came into being when Vicki Husband and friends at her gym, Femme Fitness in Gastonia, North Carolina, wanted to do some volunteer work. A longtime animal lover, Husband decided to make pets her pet project. Her veterinarian suggested she try to work with the Animal League of Gaston County, a new fostering group that provides animal placement assistance and low-cost sterilization to people who can’t afford the surgeries on their own.

Husband had recently seen the movie Calendar Girls, in which a group of older women raise money for a cancer charity by posing nude. In the film, the women cover their naughty bits with strategically placed melons and other objects.

“And I thought it would be really cool to put a twist on it,” says Husband, “to have us pose behind our pets, so that we would basically be wearing our pets.”

She approached the head of the League with her proposal and found a fellow fan in president Ann Isenhour, who had liked the movie too. “I thought it was a hoot,” she says.

Some League board members were a little worried about having a semi-nude calendar as a fundraiser, but Isenhour calmed their fears. “We still have a few board members who said, ‘Hmm, I don’t know, naked people ...’ And I said, ‘You’re not going to see anything. You’re not going to see any more than you would see at the beach. And quite frankly, you’ll probably see less than you would see of some people on the beach.’ ”

The group funded the photography and printing costs through an auction, a “coming out party” benefit, and advance orders. Those pre-production sales put the pressure on the group to come up with something memorable.

Husband feels they got it: a sepia-toned series of photographs of women of all ages and sizes, baring it all behind well-placed Rottweilers and tabbies who—aside from droopy garden-party hats and strands of pearls—are the only “clothing” in sight. Each page also offers a quote about animals or a statistic about euthanasia or adoption rates in the area. There are more dogs than cats in the photos, but that wasn’t a species bias, Husband says; dogs are bigger and provided more body coverage.

The shoot itself was quite a spectacle: The outdoor shots of the women were taken on the front lawn of a bed and breakfast that happens to be on a major street. “We had to have lots of volunteers, because each lady would take off her robe and a volunteer had to hand her a pet to cover up with, and everyone was trying to stay covered up while the cars kept driving by,” says Husband.

The project has gotten the League and Husband’s group of Pets-with-pets lots of media attention; local newspapers and TV stations covered the story, and even some national outlets picked it up. They’ve sold calendars to customers as far away as Canada and California. “I’ve been told we’re even on a porn website in Belgium,” Husband says.

Despite a discount from the photographer, the project was expensive; Husband and her gym friends had to raise $23,000 to print 5,000 calendars on high-quality paper. Still, profits are rolling in for the League. “If we sell all 5,000 of the calendars, we’ll raise around $100,000 for the animals,” says Husband.

Animal issues garner little attention in Gaston County, says Isenhour. Though the area is changing slowly, it’s still mostly rural in both geography and mindset. But the calendar has gotten people talking—and not just about its two-legged models but about their reason for posing in the first place: the low adoption and sterilization rates for pets in the community.

It’s a marketing truism: A little T & A goes a long way—even (especially?) if it’s covered up by cute dogs and cats.

“I’m a firm believer in what Madonna said,” says Isenhour. “ ‘It doesn’t matter what people are saying about you, as long as they’re talking.’ ”

 

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