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Local pooch snags cover of ASPCA's 2011 calendar

Daisy poses in one of a variety of photos that were snapped by New York-based professional photographer Jack Deutsch. The pooch, owned by Darlene and Gary Larson of rural New London, can next be seen on the cover of the ASPCA calendar for 2011. Submitted photo by Jack Deutsch

The photo shoot got off to a frisky start. Daisy, the 12-year-old canine star, was more interested in running toward the road than posing for a camera. Her owners, Darlene and Gary Larson of rural New London, managed to coax her into cooperating with professional photographer Jack Deutsch.

Deutsch, who flew from New York City to the Larsons' home this past summer, came back the next morning for a second ph-oto session in the back yard -- and ended up with the shot that helped snag Daisy the cover of the ASPCA calendar for 2011.

"It does capture who she is," Darlene Larson said of the portrait showing Daisy in a sunlit patch of grass, gazing upwards with her long ears flung back.

The likeness appears on 1 million calendars distributed nationally by the Am-erican Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The calendar, a showcase for ASPCA staff and their adopted animal companions, has been an annual project of the ASPCA for at least a decade, "if not longer," said Luke Franklin, director of ASPCA member communications.

For the New York-based animal welfare organization, it's a year-long way of promoting pet adoption and the bond between people and their animals, he said.

"It's something we think helps really spread our message."

Each year an open call goes out to employees and volunteers to apply for a chance to be in the calendar, Franklin said. "At a place like the ASPCA, everyone wants to talk about their pet. We always get a deluge of submissions."

Larson, who is senior director of community initiatives for the ASPCA and also writes the weekly Critter Corner column for the West Central Tribune, had entered Daisy's application twice before but was aced out. This time she made it into the finals.

"We've got over 500 employees so there's a lot of competition," Larson said.

A committee winnows down the entries each year to 14 finalists, then chooses four as candidates for the cover photo.

Larson learned a few months ago that Daisy was a contender for the 2011 calendar cover. "It's a coveted spot," she said.

The selection is usually made by an ASPCA committee. But this year, for the first time, the organization decided to generate extra interest and enthusiasm by opening it up to an online vote by the public, Franklin said.

"People are excited for our calendar every year," he said. "They look forward to it."

The number of online votes cast was "in the tens of thousands," he said. "It was a huge success from our perspective."

Larson, who sent out e-mails urging everyone she knew to vote for Daisy, was both stunned and thrilled to learn this fall that Daisy won.

"It has been great," she said. "She is getting a lot of attention from a lot of people because of this."

The 100 calendars she received to give to friends and family are almost gone, except for 20 that are available at the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter in Willmar.

The Larsons adopted Daisy in 2001 from the Humane Society of Kandiyohi County. Originally a stray, she's a combination of Dalmatian and basset hound, with a Dalmatian's black and white spots and a basset's low-slung body and floppy ears.

Her veterinarian describes her as "golden," Larson said. "She's up and ready for everything. She enjoys activities and people."

In 2009, sudden severe back problems threatened Daisy's ability to walk. The Larsons rushed her to the University of Minnesota, where she underwent emergency surgery that lasted five hours. For the next six weeks she received physical therapy at the U's veterinary clinic twice a week.

Amazingly, she recovered and can walk almost normally again, although she needs a ramp to get into the house and into the car, Larson said. "She really surprised her surgeon."

Larson said Daisy seems unspoiled by her sudden fame. "I showed (the calendar) to her and she just kind of looked at it and said, 'Big deal.'"