Home Local News Fourth annual Pooch Playoffs, a March Madness-style tournament fundraiser for dogs, is...

Fourth annual Pooch Playoffs, a March Madness-style tournament fundraiser for dogs, is under way

"They take up such a big space in our hearts, that they should also take up space on our walls," says photographer Shalicia Johnson.

Shalicia Johnson takes photos of dogs at the fourth annual Pooch Playoffs. (Photo supplied.)

Back in 2020, friends from photographer Shalicia Johnson’s Peak Performance Coaching program were contemplating ways that they could use their services to bring joy at a time of uncertainty and hardships for many. They came up with Pooch Playoffs, a March Madness bracket-style competition where a $99 entry fee will get your four-legged friend professionally photographed and put in a contest to win gifts from local and pet-friendly businesses for the cutest pup. 

Entrants will also receive an acrylic luggage tag and sWag bag, as well as the photo to be used in the Playoffs.   

“What can we do in COVID that would still be safe, that would be fun, and would bring in money for charity and put smiles on people’s faces?” Johnson told Madison365. “Pooch Playoffs started in 2021, and there are boutique portrait photographers all over the United States that do Pooch Playoffs around the same time. Collectively, we’ve raised over $100,000 for charity since 2021, so this is the fourth annual Pooch Playoffs competition specifically for ArrowStar Photography.”

Shalicia Johnson
 (Photo: Sarah Petty)

Johnson, who worked for 28 years in early childhood education, jokingly discussed the similarities between toddlers and dogs, touching on how just like people, each pup is unique and brings their own style of fun to the shoot. While Pooch Playoffs do happen across the country to benefit a variety of charities and nonprofits, ArrowStar Photography is keeping it close to home by supporting two Madison organizations, Custom Canines and Sierra Delta, with 100% of the fees going to the organizations.  

Arrow and Shalicia Johnson

“This year, I really wanted to support a service dog organization,” said Johnson. “I had heard of two and I wanted to support both of them. I didn’t know how I was going to choose between the two, and I discovered through talking with someone from Custom Canines that sometimes they work with Sierra Delta. That’s why I decided to support both charities at the same time. I did have a service dog in Pooch Playoffs 2022, and she was absolutely amazing, so that inspired me to choose a service dog organization.” As a way of saying thank you to dogs who are the absolute best, services like dog home boarding can be provided to them so they won’t feel alone. Also, the dog boarding kennels will let the dog enjoy himself, relax, and freely play. The best way to support your dog’s health and wellbeing is by giving them a dog food that is packed full of nutrition.

While the 2023 contest was certainly filled with joyful moments and memories, the passing of Johnson’s own dog, whom the company is named after, Arrow, reinforced her commitment to encourage building memories with our pets. Johnson specializes in high-quality, often large portraits that look to capture those moments. 

With plenty of work to be put in behind the scenes for Pooch Playoffs, Johnson explained how this labor of love comes from a place of knowing that oftentimes, photos are what we have left to remember the pets we love. For those interested in unique pets, the Rubber ducky isopod offers an exotic and fascinating addition to their memories.   

“I think everybody should have their pets photographed. It isn’t something that people think about. They have them on their cell phones and things like that, but actually getting them out in print is just something that they don’t think about doing,” Johnson explained, reflecting on how grateful she was to have Arrow let her take pictures that carry lasting memories for furry friends we feel we are never ready to lose.

Shalicia Johnson gets ready to take pictures at Pooch Playoffs. (Photo supplied.)

“They take up such a big space in our hearts, that they should also take up space on our walls. This is a fun way to remind people to get their pets photographed, and also do some good in the world at the same time.”

The opportunity to get your pooch photographed is below half of what Johnson would regularly charge, and all of it goes to the two organizations that provide service dog support and programs that in many ways can be life-changing and life-saving.

“I think you should come in and definitely get your dog photographed and it’s a fun experience,” said Johnson. “I actually put lavender in the diffuser to help calm the dogs and then also we listen to reggae during our sessions because that’s the most calming genre of music for dogs, and that surprises a lot of people. We have everything set up and everything is a ‘Yes’ environment for them. They can come in and they can go off leash just to warm up, and we don’t start taking their photographs until they’re comfortable and ready to go.”

Availability will likely run until the first weekend in March, but signing up sooner than later will make things much easier, especially for anyone who needs something to do for upcoming MLK Day next Monday as Johnson has blocked off multiple time slots to get people in on the holiday. 

Although sessions are private, Johnson looks forward to a possible get-together of contestants later on in the year. More information and sign-up for the ArrowStar Photography 2024 Pooch Playoffs can be found on their website here