P.L.A.Y., Pet Lifestyle and You, has announced the winner of its fourth annual scholarship competition, Scholars Helping Collars. Each year, P.L.A.Y. awards one $1,000 scholarship to the student who best exemplifies the company’s core animal rights beliefs and who best describes, through an essay entry, the impact he or she has made on animal welfare in his or her community. Leah Pesso from Melville, N.Y., won this year’s competition for her campaign to help raise awareness of the homeless dog population in Puerto Rico.

Pesso was first exposed to Puerto Rico’s homeless dog problem during a family trip. She found a small, abandoned puppy on the street and, after inquiring about its owner, found that the dog was just one of a thousand abandoned on Puerto Rico’s ‘Dead Dog Beach.’ This beach had become a dumping ground for dogs whose owners could no longer care for them or who had no desire to care for them any longer.

During their trip, the family decided to adopt the small dog, now known as ‘Taco,’ and Pesso set her mind to helping the remaining animals on the beach. Through research, she discovered the Sato Project, an organization that works to rescue dogs from Dead Dog Beach and places them in permanent homes, and was inspired to start her own project.

Pesso wrote and published a children’s book called “Taco’s Tales” to raise awareness of the problem and educate children on the importance of caring for pets. She also worked in tandem with her high school’s DECA chapter to create her own business, Tales for Change, to elevate awareness even more.

“It’s clear that Leah has a passion for not only rescuing animals, but also educating others about how to better the lives and welfare of animals worldwide,” said Deborah Feng Co-Founder of P.L.A.Y. “We were extremely impressed with her drive and are excited to award her this scholarship and watch her succeed with future endeavors.”

 In addition to Pesso’s first place $1,000 prize, P.L.A.Y. also selected second and third place winners. Mia Franzoia from Sacramento, Calif., was awarded second place and will be receiving a set of 10 Warm Bellies Special Edition Chill Pads from P.L.A.Y. to be donated to the animal shelter of her choice – the City of Sacramento Front Street Animal Shelter. Danielle Johnson from Las Vegas received third place – Johnson will receive five Garden Fresh plush toys from P.L.A.Y. to be donated to the shelter of her choosing, the Furgotten Friends Dog Rescue in Las Vegas.

Winners were chosen from a pool of more than 120 applicants from across the country. Each essay was judged by P.L.A.Y. representatives using the following criteria:

  • Compelling and engaging description of volunteer efforts and their impact on the personal life of the student
  • Thematic consistency throughout the submission around the central thesis
  • Proper spelling and grammar usage throughout the submission

To read Pesso’s winning essay, as well as the second and third place entries, click here!