Simply put, Sarah Matt, 11, of Labadie, loves helping pets.
Sarah recently won the Purina Farms Kids4Pets contest, which honors one young pet helper.
The sixth-grader at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Washington is the daughter of Terry and Julianne Matt, and the sister of Abby Matt
When Purina Farms announced the contest, which was held on Facebook, Sarah’s parents knew their daughter would be a tough contender.
“She is definitely all about the dogs,” Terry Matt said.
The couple wrote a short essay on how their daughter puts pets first. Purina Farms selected 20 finalists through May.
Once finalists were selected, people could vote for one winner on Facebook from June 10-26. The winner was announced July 11.
For the past 2 1/2 years, the Matt family has fostered 21 dogs for the Franklin County Humane Society in Union.
Fostering helps socialize the dog for their “forever family” as well as opens a kennel at the shelter for other dogs, Terry Matt said.
Sarah has been an integral part of the fostering process, he added.
“It feels good because you’re helping dogs and saving their lives,” she said.
Sarah helps take the dogs for walks, takes them to mobile adoption events, helps house train them and works on socialization.
The family teaches the dogs not to jump, to stay off furniture and show them how much they are loved, Terry Matt said.
The Matts work with the dog as long as they have him or her, which has ranged from one week to five months. Families looking for pets typically find them on Petfinder.
“We get to know the dogs,” said Terry Matt, adding that the family can tell potential adopters the positive things about the dogs, as well as what they need to work on.
“Fostering is a family operation,” he said.
The family just fostered its first litter of kittens. They also have two dogs and two cats of their own.
Once a foster dog is adopted, there is occasionally a lag time in getting another, Terry Matt said.
“Sarah is constantly on me about when we’re going to get another dog,” he said. “She’s very good about taking the dogs out and caring for them.”
Last fall, Sarah held a lemonade stand with proceeds to benefit the shelter. She and a friend raised $100.
For her 9th birthday, she had guests bring dog food, toys, collars and other items to donate to the shelter. The following year, she donated birthday gifts to the American Protective Association of Missouri, which has a birthday party program.
Guests also made and decorated scarves for dogs and catnip-filled socks for cats.
At just 8 years old, before the family was fostering, Sarah donated half of her First Communion money to the Franklin County Humane Society.
In the winter, she helps ring bells at PetCo or Wal-Mart.
Sarah Matt won a $50 gift card to Purina Farms. She also won $500 to donate to the Franklin County Humane Society.
The Purina Pro Plan Performance Team will perform at her school sometime in the fall and Matt will get to be the guest of honor.
The Matts encourage people to volunteer at the shelter if possible.