“Before you consider buying an animal, always consider going to your local shelter,” says Kim Kalunian, reporter and webmaster for Beacon Communications, who for the past year has volunteered at the East Greenwich Animal Protection League. “There are lots of loveable animals who are looking for homes.”
To help the cause, Kalunian spearheaded an upcoming fundraiser, which will feature a silent auction of 25 framed and matted 11” by 14” photos of Rhode Island celebrities posing with furry friends that are up for adoption. Cats and dogs that have had the fortune of being adopted also participated. All funds will be donated to the League, a private, no-kill shelter.
“Our animals live out the duration of their lives there and the shelter boards them at the Greenwich Bay Animal Hospital,” Kalunian said. “The donations will cover their cost of living, veterinary expenses, and spaying and neutering costs.”
So, who are some of the celebrities? Many of them include local performers who have starred in shows at Trinity Rep, as well as the Gamm Theatre, radio and television personalities and others like newspaper publisher John Howell, who operates the Warwick Beacon, Cranston Herald and Johnston Sun Rise.
“I even put a dog biscuit in my mouth,” Howell said of the shoot. “They don’t taste that bad.”
Howell said he thinks Kalunian’s project is innovative in an effort to help a cause that is close to her heart. He feels it was wise of her to contact people she knows to help shelter animals.
“She’s doing it in a fashion I’ve never seen used before for animal causes,” said Howell. “I expect she’s going to be very successful in this.”
Mary Larsen, co-host of “The Rhode Show” on FOX Providence, also modeled for the cause and agreed that Kalunian’s fundraiser is a unique way to assist animals in need and emphasize the need for people to adopt.
“It’s a really creative idea to highlight the business, as well as the animals and hopefully find them homes,” she said. “It’s so hard sometimes to shine the animals in a good light when they are behind a cage.”
Doreen Collins, host of the show “Rhode Bytes” and “Unreal Deal” on Channel 10, feels the same.
“The time and effort Kim is putting into this is great and I wish more people would do stuff like this,” Collins said. “Kim is awesome and I’m a huge animal advocate. My kids call me the crazy dog lady. Our dog, Albert, was rescued and I’d have more if I could.”
Other models include Barbi Jo DiMaria, the marketing and promotions director of 92 PRO-FM, and Kate Fitzgerald, 11, who last year played the lead in Rhode Island Youth Theatre’s production of “Annie,” as well as starred in Trinity Rep’s production of “A Christmas Carol.”
“She posed with Buddy the Dog,” Kalunian said. “Buddy is the reason I volunteer at the shelter.”
Buddy made headlines last February when she was a shelter dog Kalunian sought out to star in “Annie,” which she directed and choreographed. She needed a dog to play “Sandy” and contacted Tammy Flanagan, the president and director of the East Greenwich Animal Protection League. Not only was an animal star born; Kalunian’s association with the shelter began.
“It really helped raise shelter dog adoption awareness,” said Kalunian.
Flanagan, who in addition to volunteering at the clinic works full-time for the Warwick School Department and part-time as the kennel manager and veterinary technician at the Greenwich Bay Animal Hospital, had nothing but kind words to say about Kalunian. She feels blessed to have Kalunian, as well as her mother, Karen, as volunteers.
“She and her mother have been great advocates for our animals and have given us a lot of publicity,” said Flanagan. “She has put so much work into this fundraiser. I can’t thank her enough.”
Kalunian developed the idea for the auction when she was on Facebook. In early November, she saw photos of a model who had done a photo shoot and there appeared to be a puppy on set. She enjoyed looking at a few candid shots of the model with the animal.
“I wondered if there was a way that I could recreate this with people I know who are comfortable in front of the camera and shelter animals,” Kalunian said.
From there, she contacted professional photographer friends, Bonnie Griffin of Bonnie Griffin Photography, and Eve Marie Webster of Five of 5 Photography.
Then, she called Crestar Picture Framing at 51 Liberty Street off Main Street in East Greenwich and partners Cathy Buchanan and Jason Dittleman agreed to donate their space for the photo shoots, as well as the event.
“We love animals and this is for a good cause,” Buchanan said. “We’re doing this in the hopes that these animals will get adopted. Kim has really put a lot of effort into it.”
Further, Kalunian started to seek donations to raffle at the event, which include Coldplay concert tickets, tickets to performances at Trinity Rep, Alex and Ani Jewelry, Haunted Rhode Island gear, Narragansett Beer products, and other merchandise.
Anne Mulhall, owner of LDI Casting, contributed a one-hour private coaching session for acting at the studio. She has known Kalunian since the reporter’s younger years.
“I’m a big dog fan and a big Kim fan,” Mulhall said. “She’s so inspirational to be doing this and it doesn’t surprise me one bit. It makes sense to me that she would take some of her passions and use them as resources to create this.”
Kalunian, 22, said her affection for animals started when she was 9. She wanted a puppy and her parents got her a Maltese puppy, which she named Gizzi. Gizzi passed away in 2010 and Kalunian found comfort by visiting shelters.
Her mother, Karen, said she couldn’t be more proud.
“I’ve always tried to instill in her how important volunteering is and I just want her to be healthy and happy,” said Karen, a former Mrs. Rhode Island. “That’s what all parents want for their children, so this is the icing on the cake.”
The event will take place on Feb. 11 from 7 to 10 p.m. at Crestar Picture Framing. The local upcoming chef, Catherine Amoriggi, 15, a Bay View student, will prepare appetizers and there will be a cash bar for wine and a champagne toast. Plenty of parking is available. Buchanan described Crestar as located “across from the CVS drive-through window,” as she said it is tricky to find.
In addition to volunteering at the shelter and working for Beacon Communications, Kalunian, a 2007 graduate of Moses Brown High School, also participates in theater. She began dancing at the Carolyn Dutra Dance Studio at 1945 Warwick Avenue when she was 2 and appeared in her first musical at 8.
Most recently, she starred in “A Chorus Line” at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford, “The Family” at Providence’s Trinity Rep, and is now choreographing “Grease” at Wheeler High School in Providence. This month she’ll be directing and choreographing “Seussical the Musical,” which is based on Dr. Seuss books, with the Rhode Island Youth Theatre. She is grateful for the help her friends gave her to make the project come to fruition.
“Thanks to everyone involved,” said Kalunian. “It’s heartwarming to see these animals get out of their cages for a little while and spend time with people who have opened their hearts and schedules to benefit them. I’m excited about the event.”
Tickets can be purchased at the door for a suggested donation of $10. Anyone unable to attend can make contributions payable to the East Greenwich Animal Protection League at 5732 Post Road, East Greenwich, 02818, which houses 23 dogs and 25 cats, according to Flanagan.
For more information about the event, call 401-996-0726. To find out how to become a volunteer at the shelter, call 401-885-1158.