By Tim Kelly
“Kato was a rock star when he was still living at the shelter,” said Bill Hollingsworth, executive director of the Humane Society of Ocean City. “But now …”
No more words were necessary. Kato, a 7-year-old white German Shepherd pranced around the Ocean City Skatepark on Saturday in full celebrity mode. He posed for pictures, licked the faces of his “guests” and seemed fully aware he was the center of attention for the annual Skato With Kato fundraiser to benefit the Humane Society.
“First of all, he’s a beautiful dog, and he’s so friendly,” Hollingsworth went on. “He’s just a great ambassador.”
More than 30 skaters took part in an all-ages skating competition, and enjoyed live music from The Sheckies and Ocean City High School’s own The Customers, for a “fun-raising fundraiser,” all to benefit the Humane Society.
“Here we are in the fourth year already, it doesn’t seem possible,” said Phil Bellucci, the Humane Society’s Operation and Development Director, who adopted Kato in 2015. “This event helps attract a lot of interest from the youth of the area. They’re so passionate, and they’ve really responded to help our mission and to help get our messages out.”
In addition to raising funds for the Humane Society, which runs a veterinary clinic and animal control services among other offerings, the event also raises awareness.
“It sounds corny,” Bellucci said, “but we want people to know that when someone adopts a pet from us, they really become part of the family from the time of adoption and for the life of the pet.”
Dog training and help getting the pets settled into their new homes by trained specialists are two such examples.
“Sometimes there are issues with the pet which placed it in the shelter in the first place. We want to address those types of things and stop so many animals from (needing to be housed in the shelter),” Bellucci remarked.
Skato With Kato began as Skato For Kato, a fundraiser to help finance ACL knee surgery for the dog soon after his adoption. However, the veterinarian recommended exercise as a possible way to avert the surgery, and it worked out.
Instead of paying for an operation, the event has helped benefit the facility at 1 Shelter Road, off Tennessee Avenue and near the soccer fields.
And while there were some serious messages going on about keeping the stray population down and training dogs and their new owners, as the name implies, Skato With Kato was mostly about fun.
Ocean City surfer, skater and event planner Willie Fannon kept the event moving and the participants smiling and laughing, Bellucci said.
“This is what you get when you put on an event in Ocean City. The community rallies around it,” he said.
Sponsors also jumped into the fray, including Peace of Wood, Kona Dog, Surfers Supplies, OC Paddle Company, 7th St. Surf School, Randazzo’s, Morey’s Pier, Hidden Drawer, Down Beach Skate Co., Lucky Dog Custom Apparel, Heritage Surf Shop and Johnson’s Popcorn.
“Skato With Kato is a give-back to a community that has embraced us and helped us in so many ways,” Bellucci said of the event. “And it’s a give-back to the kids who have showered our animals with such affection.”