IT WAS the death of her mother's pet squirrel that sparked 11-year-old Mackenzie McCarty's interest in taxidermy. The sixth-grader from the Philly 'burbs will get to showcase her talents today at 2 p.m. on NBC10's "Steve Harvey" show, where she will present him with a tiny surprise.

McCarty, of Warminster, has a "no-kill" policy on taxidermy, wherein she retrieves her subjects from roadkill rather than purchasing them already dead.

"My mom's squirrel died and she would take me to the taxidermist shop with her and I would love to see the animals," McCarty told me yesterday.

"When I was 9, my mom surprised me with a taxidermy class for Christmas. I like doing rats the best because you can do more with them - you can dress them up and pose them."

McCarty says she wants to do this for a living and plans to get her professional license.

"I'm saving up for it," she said.

Civic leader turns 40

Gal-about-town Shani Newton turned 40 over the weekend.

She celebrated with a star-studded, three-day tribute to herself, including a gala, a shoe giveaway and a Sunday church service. For her big night Saturday at The View (800 N. Broad St.) the unmarried "phamous" socialite donned a white ball gown and rhinestone tiara to ring in the night.

Some who turned out to celebrate her birthday included former 76er Allen Iverson; Sheryl Lee Ralph, who played Dee Mitchell on UPN's "Moesha"; Ralph's husband, state Sen. Vincent Hughes; Faatimah Gamble, entrepreneur and wife of music impresario Kenny Gamble; film director and actress Angela Robinson, of OWN's "The Haves and the Have Nots"; singer Christopher Williams; Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who bestowed a City Council citation on Newton for her "Birth-Day of Service Weekend"; and the People Paper's own Jenice Armstrong, who helped emcee the shoe giveaway.

The weekend wrapped with a church service at Newton's home church, Zion Baptist Church (3600 N. Broad St.), where she was joined by family and friends.

'Take It to the Ring!'

Casting calls start tomorrow for a new TV show geared toward local notable people squashing their beefs inside the boxing ring.

When becoming buried beneath litigious paperwork has got you down, Damon Feldman, celebrity-boxing promoter (and receiver of a few lawsuits, himself) is here to ease the tension. "Take It to the Ring!" will allow fighters to settle their grudges and disputes in true boxing fashion.

"I want this to be the platform for any type of dispute or controversy," said Feldman.

Feldman told me - in total - he's hosted 77 celebrity fights, which have included big-name contestants like Tonya Harding, Michael Lohan, Rodney King, "Octomom" Nadya Suleman, Tila Tequila and John Bolaris, among others.

"Anybody who has a fun grudge and wants a chance on TV and to settle it for fun, I'm the guy to go to," Feldman said.

Feldman told me he's still looking for a big-name judge for the contests, to appear in the first four episodes. Those interested can show up tomorrow night from 7:30 to 9:30 at Chickie's and Pete's (1526 Packer Ave.) in South Philly to show that they've got what it takes to win.

"Take It to the Ring!" debuts April 29 on WACP Channel 4 throughout the tri-state area.

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