It was earlier this month that I alerted readers that producers at Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville were on the hunt for a clever and cute canine to share the spotlight for Star Production's staging of "Annie."

Playing Sandy, the four-legged best friend of Little Orphan Annie, requires more personality than just any average pet. So when more than a dozen dogs showed up for the Sandy auditions on July 1, it took more than a few standard tricks from the canine candidates hoping to fetch the role.

No "call-backs" were required and the role went to Shelby, who belongs to Jackie Mardos of Dyer.

Shelby will make her Star Plaza Theatre debut July 31, followed by performances on Aug. 1, 7 and 8.

I'm told Shelby is also a therapy dog as part of the program Power Paws for Kids, Inc., Animal Assisted Therapy.

This group consists of all volunteers with their dogs, who are nationally registered "therapy dogs" going to schools, hospitals and libraries.

This is a program that deserves publicity, since there are always more requests than the present volunteers can handle and they are in need of more volunteers, both four-legged and two-legged.

This organization is totally dependent on donations, and the volunteers pay their own dog's expenses.

Power Paws for Kids Inc. is a not-for-profit organization. To make a donation or find out more about this program, call Maryanne Battistini at (219) 306-6344.

Speaking of look-a-likes

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Do you think you're a mirror image of the lovable and legendary Annie? Do you have red hair? Is it curly?

If so, this your chance to win some fun prizes as part of a contest promotion sponsored by The Times, Star Plaza Theatre, Radisson Hotel and T.J. Maloney's. (The play production is being sponsored by The Times Media Company, Lexus of Merrillville, Albert's Diamond Jewelers and County Line Orchard).

Just e-mail the look-a-like's photo, including name, address and contact phone number to info@starplazatheatre.com and put the words "Annie Contest" in the subject line. All submissions must be received by noon Friday, July 23.

As for prizes, the Grand Prize is four VIP tickets for the 2 p.m. Aug. 1 performance, along with dinner for four that night at the Radisson Hotel's TJ Maloney's and the added bonus of four additional tickets to any Star Plaza Theatre show of choice between now and Dec. 31, 2010.

There will also be a chance for photos and a meet and greet with the cast. There will be four runner-up prizes awarded, which include four main floor tickets to see the 2 p.m. Aug. 1 performance and the chance for photos and a meet and greet with the cast.

Tickets for this production of "Annie" are $20 (upper mezzanine) and $25 (main floor and front mezzanine ) at the Star Plaza Theatre box office, Ticketmaster outlets, ticketmaster.com or by calling (800) 745-3000. For more information visit starplazatheatre.com. Proceeds from the July 31 opening night performance will benefit The Caring Place Shelter for Domestic Violence in Valparaiso.

• The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or 219.852.4327.