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Rachael Ray masterminds pet charity contest

Rachael Ray is looking for 64 charities to compete in a $200,000 contest to find the most deserving pet cause in the country.

Using basketball's March Madness format, Mutt Madness will start with 64 contestants, Ray said. These will be whittled down by Ray and a panel of pet lovers from entries submitted through her Web site by Sept. 30.

Each of the top 64 groups gets $1,000. Winners of the next several rounds, chosen by online votes, will get another $1,000. The final voting showdown is worth $25,000 for second place and $50,000 for the winner. The champ will be announced in early December, Ray said.

Ray, an Emmy-award winning talk show host and the mastermind of Food Network's "30 Minute Meals," joined forces last year with the Ainsworth Pet Nutrition company to develop a line of dog food and treats called Rachael Ray Nutrish.

'It's heartbreaking'
Everything she gets from the sale of dog food goes to Rachael's Rescue, an organization dedicated to helping at-risk animals through adoption, medical care, education, training and outreach initiatives.

The rescue raised $400,000 last year, but Ray wanted to help more people and animals. "We thought Mutt Madness would be a fun and fair way to spread the love and the money," she said by telephone.

Ray's first dog, a pit bull named Boo, was her inspiration for the rescue and the contest, she said. "She changed my life in every good way possible."

Boo died a few years ago, but Ray said she had plenty of love left for Isaboo, who appears with her in Nutrish commercials.

"Pit bulls are the perfect example of dogs that are tortured and abused," she said. "I just don't see how everybody can't be doing something for animal rescue. It's heartbreaking to see the innocents so mistreated."

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