02/26/2013 01:11 pm ET

World Spay Day 2013: Humane Society Events Expand With First-Ever Pet Pageant

From Vetstreet's Lisa Granshaw:

Every year on the last Tuesday in February, The Humane Society of the United States marks World Spay Day. While most owners may have heard of spaying and neutering their pets, not enough are taking action.

“A lot of people I don’t think realize the offspring of their pets end up in shelters,” says Vicki Stevens, World Spay Day coordinator for The Humane Society. “People think they’ll find good homes…but in reality it’s the reason shelters are full of too many puppies and kittens.”

According to Stevens, there are too many animals breeding and not enough resources to care for the offspring. By spaying and neutering their pets, owners are saving animals’ lives.

To increase awareness of the issue, a number of events are taking place around the world to get people involved. From a Valentine Pet Fair in Anchorage, Alaska, to a spaghetti dinner benefit in Lake Placid, N.Y., hundreds of events have taken place across the country this month to support World Spay Day efforts.

The First World Spay Day Pet Pageant
One of the newest events to take place this year is the 2013 World Spay Day Pet Pageant. The pageant is the brainchild of Kelley Barr, online fund-raising strategist for the Humane Society’s communications department. The pageant started Feb. 4 and ends on March 15.

“We thought a pet pageant would be a fun way for proud pet owners, many of whom have already spayed or neutered their pets and recognize the importance of spaying and neutering, to participate in World Spay Day online,” Barr says.

There are six categories in which owners can enter their pets. Pets can be entered into the main category, Miss or Mister World Spay Day 2013, for free, and pay $5 per category to enter in any of the others, which include Best Hair, Best Smile, Most Photogenic, Best Personality and Ugly-Cute.

“When a pet guardian enters his or her pet in the online pageant, they instantly become an ambassador for spay/neuter and can spread the message — and the adorable photo of their pet — to all of their contacts, friends and followers,” Barr says.

All fees will go to a spay and neuter grant fund and will be divided among 25 participating organizations.

“That’s one of the things this pageant is doing, raising money to feed programs to help,” Stevens says.

Popular Pet Awards winners will be chosen in each category by an online vote, while a panel of celebrity judges will choose Judges’ Choice Award winners. The winners of each category will be able to select a participating organization to receive a $1,000 grant for their spay and neuter programs. Winners will also receive a personalized pet collar, and their winning photo will be featured on the Humane Society’s homepage.

Panel of Judges
The celebrity judges taking part in the Pet Pageant include award-winning photographers Robin Layton and Seth Casteel, as well as actor Tricia Helfer.

Layton has worked with the Humane Society as a contest judge in the past, and the proceeds from her book, A Letter to My Dog: Notes to Our Best Friends, will go to support the Humane Society.

“Everybody loves a competition! Any time I have the opportunity to get the word out that spaying and neutering saves lives is always a good thing,” Layton says.

Casteel, known for his series of underwater dog photos and his nonprofit Second Chance Photos, is also excited to be a part of this new initiative.

“Anything I can do to help our little friends, count me in! It's clear that photography is an amazing tool to help make the world a better place for our pets,” he says.

Barr is glad to have animal lovers judging the pageant.

“The judges’ compassion and insight into animals make them perfect fits for the lofty task of choosing the pageant winners,” she says.

Remembering the Cause
According to Barr, the best thing about the Pet Pageant is that it’s not just fluff but “seeks to educate pet owners, in a fun way, about the importance of spay/neuter.” She hopes the pageant will become an annual event honoring World Spay Day.

“The pageant will continue to evolve over the years, to keep up excitement and participation in the event, but having thousands of online ambassadors for spay/neuter will always be the focus of the pageant,” she says.

The 18th annual World Spay Day takes place on Feb. 26, 2013. Learn more about the Pet Pageant on The Humane Society of the United States website, and how to spay and neuter your pet by asking your veterinarian.

More on Vetstreet:
A Newer Way to Spay Your Pets
Photos: 11 Unforgettable Animal Smiles
5 Dog Breeds That Are Worrisome
How Old Is My Pet in People Years?