Yesterday, the shelter where I work hosted an event we called “Empty the Shelter”. It was similar the an event called “Clear the Shelters“, in which shelters throughout the country held large adoption events where animals were adopted out for low or no cost. This idea has grown in popularity over the past few years, and has had more than it’s share of critics. Until yesterday, I was one of them.

Throughout the day, I saw people wait for hours to meet with an adoption counselor and to meet an animal. I saw more smiles leaving the building in one day than I ever have. I saw patience among potential adopters and I saw the same level of counseling happen by the (amazing) adoptions staff that I see every other day. I saw cats leave in droves and senior dogs that I worried about daily leave with people who were thrilled to be taking them home.

I saw people who were in the right place, at the right time, there to meet the right dog for them. Among them, our longest term resident, who at 11 years old had, prior to yesterday, zero adoption meets. I saw them walk up to his kennel, speak to him, and then me and say “We are waiting to meet Palkia!” and my heart danced, and for once, I dared to hope for him. I stalked the adoption meet (they probably thought I was nuts at first as I peered through windows, smiled and tried to give clandestine thumbs up/down with questioning brows to the adoption counselor), learned they had recently lost a 17 year old dog and that they wanted to adopt a senior to honor that dog’s life. Palkia went home in a brand new harness and with the second chance he deserves. I am over the moon.

I started the day skeptical and worried. But, as the day went on, I grew more enthusiastic and hopeful. Remember, I am the woman who said People Do Not Suck, and yet I harbored some deep fears about the way this event would go. How much value could people possibly place on an animal that they only paid $10 or $25 for? Why would they only show up on a day when there was adoption specials? As the day went on, it became clear: these people were here because they wanted to adopt, just like any other day, and the fact that an event was happening tilted the scales, not only in their favor, but in a way that benefited our animals. And, as someone who has gotten most of her own animals for free, who the heck was I to judge? My $50 dog is just as loved if she was free or $500. Why would I walk around holding every other person looking to adopt a dog to an arbitrary standard- mine? We’d likely be rejected by some rescue groups, despite being what I consider us to be- pretty amazing pet parents. Hazel was late getting her rabies vaccine, we’ve been lax about heartworm preventative, we live in a condo and don’t have a large yard with a six foot fence,  we have a small one, with a five foot fence. Which I have no doubt someone might say “Close, but no cigar” to. That’s fine, because I am a shelter girl. I’m sold on giving people a chance. I’m sold on the idea that most of us are doing the best we can. And I’m sold that though some of us may have different standards, until someone comes up with a perfect model that gets dogs and cats out of shelters alive and in a timely manner, regardless of incentive, days in which we market and celebrate emptying the shelters is a viable and worthwhile alternative to animals sitting for months waiting to be adopted, or worse, euthanized while waiting for the perfect person to come along, because shelter life, no matter how enriched, is no life for an animal to live indefinitely.

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Might some of these animals come back? Yes, they might. But, show me a rescue group or breeder who has never had an animal returned. Sometimes, despite our best intentions and our best counseling, we are wrong, or something changes for an owner, or dogs don’t get along despite a seemingly great first meeting, or they do actually turn out to be horrible people. There’s only so much we can control , no matter what. Will my heart be broken for him if Palkia is returned? Yes, but, it was already breaking watching him sit, looked past, day after day after day.

When I started my job, I made a conscious decision that I wouldn’t judge people for surrendering an animal. Yesterday, I made a conscious decision that I wouldn’t judge people for coming out to adopt on a day where there was huge incentive to do it. My boss, Jack, whose wisdom never ceases to amaze me, said something remarkable to me last night. We were chatting about how successful the day was and I said it was so nice to see so many people leaving happy and he said “In my opinion, it’s more the excitement of being part of something than the low or waived price.” And you know what, I think he’s right. We ALL like to feel like we are part of something. I think that’s why there were smiles, I think that’s why there was patience. People felt like they were part of something big, and fun and meaningful. The fact that they might have a few extra dollars in their pockets to buy toys and treats is the icing on the cake.

All told, at my shelter, 30 animals were adopted, most of them cats. Given the rate at which cats reproduce and are euthanized, this makes me very, very happy. “Kitten season” is a very real thing.

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The last one out the door was Dallas, a senior beagle/German Shepherd mix. Dallas was surrendered because his owner died. A question that often comes up is “How come no one in his family could take him in?” and it’s one I’m guilty of asking in the past. And then one day, I realized that if something happened to me and my husband, there would literally be no place for Hazel to go. And that is not an exaggeration. My family is very, very small. My friends all have more than one animal of their own. Who could actually take her in? And those thoughts stopped my judgment in it’s tracks.

While in the shelter, Dallas proved his weight in gold, participating in dog meets and playing the part of Helper Dog for a very shy dog like he was born to do it. If not for a day like yesterday, Dallas might not have gotten his second chance. Watching him walk out the door with his new mom, in his new collar, on his new leash brought me so much joy, I thought my heart might explode.

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If you don’t like the idea of these events, I understand. I’ve literally been you, shaking my head and expressing my opinion to anyone who will listen (sort of like what I’m doing here!). But, here’s my challenge for you: attend one, watch what happens, see the patience, the smiles, the hard work. Even better, if you’ve got a viable (meaning: workable, do-able and helpful for the thousands of animals needing homes today) alternative, let’s hear it. Events like this were founded with the lofty goal of getting more animals placed in homes. They also increase awareness of adopting from shelters on a very large scale and I’m all about that.

To my great surprise, yesterday I found out that by opening my mind, I could see good things happening all around me. Thanks to these 4 incredibly hard working people and a small army of volunteers,  30 animals got the chance to have a happily ever after and for a small shelter like ours, that’s no small feat. It was a day worth celebrating for us, as it was for thousands of shelter animals throughout the country.

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I can’t wait to do it again.