Marshall McGahey, 13, runs on the St. Mary’s cross-country team this fall; she’s a new aunt to twins and somewhere in the few minutes between school and homework, she’s planned her Fourth Annual Pooch Olympics.
Not only does that mean the doggie obstacle course the McGaheys store in the garage and attic was unpacked and carried out, but this year, Marshall was determined to raise $7,000 for the Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County in the carnival she stages in the front yard. This year’s event was September 9.
To understand how big of an ask that is, in the three previous years combined, Marshall raised $10,000 to help hurt, lost and neglected dogs.
“I ended up with some great donations and raised $7,081,” she said.
Marshall is one of dozens of young people at Holy Communion whose achievements are part of their dedication to Gospel values.
She was 8 when she had the idea.
“I had visited the Humane Society a couple of times. I remember being there and wanting to take all the dogs home. I wanted to do something to help,” she said. “I thought of creating a Pooch Olympics. Mom said ‘not this year. We can do it next year.’ She thought I’d forget. I didn’t, and here we are.”
For two hours on a Sunday afternoon in September, the McGaheys’ front yard is Pooch Central. Friends, neighbors and sponsors bring their dogs, all on leashes, and register for the obstacle course, a series of canine challenges.
“It looks pretty crazy to someone walking past who doesn’t know what it is,” Marshall says.
She has an e-mail account for Pooch Olympics (“It makes it easier to keep with donations”). Participants can buy a hand-designed event t-shirt for $10.
She recruits judges from the Humane Society. People park up and down her street for an event that grows ever year. Hollywood Feed donates gift baskets. MEMPopS is a regular. So is the photo booth, and for a while, the Pooch Kissing Booth was an outrageous hit.
“Skittles, my grandmother’s dog was in the kissing booth. It was really funny for the people who did it,” Marshall said. “There was no charge.”
(Marshall’s grandmother is Susan Russell.)
All in all, about 30 dogs participate. Their owners pay $20 each. The rest of the money comes from sponsors Marshall recruits, starting with her mother’s interior design business clients.
“One customer, Roger Higgins, a designer in Nashville, wrote her a check. Another designer found out how much Roger donated and gave her $500. When he asked who to write the check to, Marshall said, ‘I’m 9 years old, you better write it to the Humane Society,’” her mother, Evelyn McGahey says, laughing.
“She fights for the underdog. She has a dear, sweet heart. If I ever were to doubt there is a God, I only have to look at Marshall. There is no way I could have done this (having Marshall and raising her) without there being a God. It’s far bigger than I am,” she said.
Matt Womack, head of outreach and education at Humane Society knows Marshall well. He always attends the Pooch Olympics.
“I have worked at the Humane Society for seven years, and she continues to amaze me with her dedication and determination to help as many animals as she can,” Womack said.
“Her event is completely planned and executed by her and her ‘team’ - her father and mother and sister, Betsy. They find sponsors. They sell merchandise. They put together gift baskets to award various winners. Literally, every single part of the event, they take care of. The only thing they ask of us is to enjoy the fruits of their labors and continue our life-saving work,” he said.
“Marshall, with the support of her family give me hope that the future is bright for our community and the animals that live here.”