South Florida saw record-breaking pet adoptions Saturday during Clear the Shelters, now a national initiative to get as many animals as possible out of shelters and into adopters’ homes by offering a big incentive: waived adoption fees.
Miami-Dade Animal Services adopted out 161 animals — mostly dogs and some cats, while the Humane Society of Greater Miami had 71 adoptions Saturday. Broward County Animal Care, the Humane Society of Broward County and the Upper Keys Humane Society also participated in the event, joining more than 400 animal shelters and humane societies across the U.S. that participated in the one-day movement. In total, 17,826 animals were adopted by the end of the day.
Most participating shelters also included free spay and neutering, vaccines and microchips.
Laurie Hoffman, director of the Humane Society of Greater Miami in North Miami Beach, said: “I’m so happy for all the people who have come out to adopt. It’s a community problem that we have homeless animals, and it’s only through the community that we can solve this problem.”
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The idea for Clear the Shelters was hatched last year in north Texas when Corey Price, manager of the Irving Animal Services Department, came up with the proposal to dedicate a day in the summer, the season when shelters are usually most full, to offer free or very reduced-price adoptions as a way to attract people to adopt. Nearly 40 other shelters in north Texas united in the project last year, and NBC and Telemundo joined as media partners, broadcasting the event ahead of time to get the message out to the public.
In a televised statement on NBC, Corey said of Clear the Shelters, now in its second year and growing: “It makes a huge difference. The summer months are the busiest time for all of us, so getting a chance to make sure we have the space for incoming animals is important, and it saves lives. It’s because of the adopters that this event is so successful.”
For most shelters and humane societies, Saturday was the largest adoption event in their history, with 20 shelters reporting they had “cleared all adoptable animals,” as metal doors, once shut and locked to contain dogs, were open and empty.
Humane Societies, unlike county animal shelters, don’t euthanize animals. But unlike county-run shelters, they turn away animals when they’re at full capacity, while county shelters must accept strays and owner-surrendered pets and often euthanize in order to make space for new arrivals.
Social media was a firestorm. Most were in support of the initiative to bring pets and people together, but others voiced concerns about impulsive adopters who may not have the know-how to care for a pet.
“Many people of the rescue community have real concerns about these kinds of events,” said one woman who posted on NBC’s Facebook page. “Because people are not screened properly so there’s fear that some dogs might end up in bad hands.”
Another woman posted: “How many of these animals will be returned to the shelter?”
Still, most comments were supportive. “This is a great idea,” said one Facebook user. “Not just because of discounted prices but because it gets people talking about the issue at hand. Shelters are overcrowded, and they kill many wonderful pets that are deserving of good forever homes.”
In what could pass for the “Black Friday” of pet adoptions, happy beginnings were abundant as families such as Miami sisters Paula and Diana Henao opened their car door to drive their new shelter pet home. They adopted Coco, a chubby 2-year-old beagle, from the Humane Society of Greater Miami on Saturday afternoon. “When I first saw him, he came directly to me,” Paula said. “He chose us,” Diana said.