“This just made me so happy. To be able to make a difference … it just means so much to me,” says Shalicia Johnson.
Johnson wrapped up months of photography work on Sunday, April 9, by presenting a $3,600 check from her ArrowStar Photography to Czar’s Promise, a local organization that raises money for canine cancer research and families whose companion animals have been diagnosed with cancer. Czar’s Promise Founder Beth Viney was visibly moved when receiving the giant check from Johnson at the Breakwater in Monona.
Johnson raised the money through her annual 2022 Pooch Playoffs, a March Madness-style competition where she photographed 32 pups for a $99 donation … in a contest to determine which dog will be the cutest canine in Wisconsin.
This year’s winner was Domino (pictured below) who beyond winning the title of Wisconsin’s Ulti-Mutt Cutie of PoochPlayoffs 2022, will go on to the lightning round for the International Championship where she will face off against more than 20 other winners from across the nation.
The photography sessions took place at 3rd Eye Collective where Johnson, a Madison photographer and lifelong pet lover, gave people the opportunity to have their dog professionally photographed while directly raising funds for canine cancer research.
“I actually started working the first weekend in February. I was going to do it two weekends four dogs each Saturday and Sunday. And then the next weekend four dogs each. I was only going to do 16 dogs,” Johnson remembers. “And then someone in my coaching program said, ‘Well you have time, why don’t you go for 32?'”
So Johnson expanded the “Sweet 16” competition knowing that she could raise that much more money for her charity. The last photography session she did was on March 5.
“I photographed every single weekend and some evenings for an entire month. And then it’s just a lot of work post-photography in getting the graphics done for social media and there’s a separate set of graphics for the voting website – that’s 64 things I have to do,” Johnson says. “It’s been a lot of work. I think at this point I have 100 hours of volunteer time in and I still have to do presentations for about 16 jobs.”
Johnson says she didn’t mind donating her time and talent to this endeavor because it’s something she is passionate about and that in the end, it was worth it because she was able to present a $3,600 check.
“She was expecting $3,200 because my bracket was full with 32 dogs. But what I didn’t tell her was that I had so much interest after the Madison365 article – thanks, by the way – that I said, ‘Although I can’t take more than 32, if you are interested in a photo session with me outside of Pooch Playoffs, I will honor $99 donation to Czar’s Promise and I will do that after Pooch Playoffs. So we had four additional people take me up on that offer, but I kept that a surprise for the founder until the check presentation.
“[Czar’s Promise Founder] Beth [Viney] was moved to tears because she knew I had raised $3,200 for her organization, which would have covered 20 separate chemotherapy treatments. When she saw the check was even larger, she figured out, on the spot, that the $3,600 would cover 23 chemotherapy treatments. So, it has felt really good to be able to give back in such a big way. I couldn’t be happier with how Pooch Playoffs turned out this year.”
Johnson launched her ArrowStar Photography on Sep. 27, 2017, and the photography business continues to grow and grow. ArrowStar is named after her beloved dog Arrow who goes by the nickname of “Arrowstar.” Pooch Playoffs is something that Johnson has been doing with her Peak Performance Coaching community — 29 photographers from across the United States (and one from Canada) — who collectively have raised $43,668 for pet-related charities with Pooch Playoffs this year, according to Johnson.
“This has been just an amazing experience for me because, you know, I named my business after my dog. It feels really good to give back,” Johnson says. “I think that’s something my grandfather instilled in me. He was always helping the community and helping people from church … always doing what he could to help support another family.
“To be able to do this in this way was bigger than anything I could have done on my own,” she adds. “And to, in the end, be able to help dogs and their families … that just means so much to me.”