YEAR OF THE CAT

Stella Bella becomes Iron Mountain Daily News’ first feline Pet Idol

Stella Bella, a cat belonging to Debra Constantini and Alan Steinberg, won the Iron Mountain Daily News Pet Idol competition. (Iron Mountain Daily News photo by Theresa Proudfit)

IRON MOUNTAIN — For Pet Idol, 2017 is the Year of the Cat.

Star feline Stella Bella turned out to be the public’s purrfect choice in the Iron Mountain Daily News competition, seizing the title by a landside over two dogs to become the Newspapers In Education mascot for the 2017-18 school year.

She becomes the first cat to win in five years of the contest, which invites people to vote early and often — ballot stuffing is encouraged — to help fund the Daily News’ NIE program, which provides copies of the newspaper to area schools for classroom use.

Debra Constantini found the Maine Coon-type cat eight years ago as a stray living under the porch of a vacant house on Grand Boulevard.

“Debra was delivering Shriner tickets to special needs adults living in a sheltered residence and discovered this abandoned cat that walked across the street for occasional snacks left outside for their dog,” said Constantini’s husband, Alan Steinberg.

They named the brown and burnt orange tabby with white bib and paws after Steinberg’s late mother, Estelle, and “for her regal bearing and luxurious whiskers cascading from eyebrows, ears and cheeks,” Steinberg said.

A former teacher, Constantini said she believes in the Newspapers In Education program.

“I loved seeing Skip in the paper and Heidi Ho Ho before that,” Constantini said, naming the past two Pet Idol winners. “The pet mascot is a clear association with Newspapers in Education. I want to be able to open the paper and see her picture and just feel good.”

Steinberg agreed. “You just want to see the face of the cat you love every day. That is the sweetest motivation you can even dream of,” he said.

As the new Pet Idol, Stella was awarded a basket of toys and treats from Butch Schinderle, Tom Erickson and Brian Scott, DVM, of Forever Tails in Iron Mountain.

Toby, a goldendoodle owned by Colin Spencer of Quinnesec, received a bucket of toys and treats from Tractor Supply and Pet Supplies Plus stores as runner-up in the contest.

Starr — a Cocker spaniel named “after Bart (Starr),” the legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback, according to owner Kathy Meyers of Iron Mountain — also earned toys and treats from Pet Supplies Plus after finishing third.

Stella’s family would like to congratulate all the contestants in Pet Idol.

“We had so much fun with this. We are both educators. I taught journalism and my husband is a writer, so it just all fit, with the charity and the fun of seeing your cat in the paper,” Constantini said.

They also encourage all area youth to keep up on current events through the Newspapers in Education program, “as reading is so important to development.”

“This contest gets more successful every year. We exceeded the money raised in the previous four Idols and I would like to congratulate all the winners and thank all of the participants, voters and sponsors of Pet Idol,” Daily News Circulation Manager Jennifer Flynn said. “I look forward to holding this sweepstakes every year.”