Jose and Tammy Vega arrived at the Camden County Animal Shelter in New Jersey early Saturday morning in search of a four-legged companion. The couple, who was first in line at the facility for its Clear the Shelters event, fell in love with a 7-year-old stray Chihuahua named Pot Pie.
"He was just really calm tempered, my wife looked over and saw him and we knew he was 'the one,'" Jose Vega told NBC Philadelphia's Jessica Boyington.
Clear the Shelters, the fourth annual pet adoption drive sponsored by NBC- and Telemundo-owned television stations, culminated Saturday with more than 1,200 shelters participating in dozens of communities across the country.
More than 91,900 pets were adopted since this year's event was launched last month, over 26,000 on Saturday alone. To encourage families to find a new pet, whether a cat, dog, ferret, rabbit or bird, many of the participating animal shelters and rescue organizations reduced or waived adoption fees.
At the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland in Westbrook, Maine, workers were hopeful that 13-year-old June Bug, a "sato" — feral dog in Puerto Rico — rescued after Hurricane Maria, would finally get the companion she deserved. June Bug had been at the shelter since the winter and on Saturday, she was adopted by a woman "who came in specifically for her," said Jeana Roth, director of community engagement at the shelter.
"We all cried," Roth added.
Holly, another dog born on the streets of Puerto Rico, ended up going home with a Nothern California couple. Holly was originally sent to Miami to be adopted but due to the devastating Hurricane Irma she was transferred again, this time to Berkeley, where she found her forever family on Saturday.
"If I can give a shelter animal a good home, whether they're traumatized or not, I'm doing what I should be doing," said Erik Hesse, a UC Berkeley professor who adopted Holly.
Cleo, a Husky mix, was also in need of a good home. The 5-year-old dog was rescued on July 4 from a sweltering hoarder house in Selden, New York, with no food or water. Pat, from Queens Village, had adopted "the best cat ever" 20 years ago from Last Hope Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation in Wantagh, and returned to the shelter on Saturday in search of a new furry companion. Pat set her heart on Cleo and the once abandoned Husky will now live his best life thanks to Pat.
It's not just dogs that found fur-ever homes during Clear the Shelters. Molly, an 11-year-old dark grey tabby cat, was adopted Saturday from the Camden County Animal Shelter. Molly's new mom, Jane DeNoto, had been thinking about getting a cat to replace her beloved Gretal who died eight months ago.
"She's a little bit shy, quiet," DeNoto said of Molly. "When I saw her, I thought, 'She's another Gretel!'"
In Atlanta, Georgia, 6-year-old Cameron was thrilled to adopt her first pet ever, a kitten, from Lifeline Animal Project's Fulton County Animal Services. Lifeline spokeswoman Karen Hirsch told NBC its shelters in DeKalb and Fulton counties have been taking in up to 10 litters of kittens a day, "so every adopted kitten is a victory for us."
Another successful adoption on Saturday for Lifeline came for Stacy, a deaf cat that arrived at the DeKalb County Animal Services with a broken leg and hip, and had to have femoral head ostectomy surgery. In a sea of available kittens, people often passed over an older cat with a disability. But when Valery Kratovil arrived at the shelter on Aug. 18, she didn't see any of Stacy's limitations. Instead, she saw "the most beautiful cat in the room," and fell in love with him immediately.
When Aces arrived at the Irving Animal Shelter in Texas he was very skittish and scared, and needed surgery to remove his right eye. The Shepard mix was surrendered to the shelter because his owner had too many pets.
"He’s a little broken, and I’m a vet, so I’m a little broken, so we’ll help each other,” said his new mom Olivia, who adopted Aces on Saturday. "And I just lost a dog in May so, I know he’s going to help.”
Even those covering the event couldn't help themselves. Telemundo 39 anchor Norma Garcia said she "couldn't say no" to an adorable puppy at the Irving shelter in North Texas on Saturday and decided to adopt him.
In Illinois, Bethy found the perfect dog in Joey the Chihuaha. The Chicago resident lives in a seniors building and has been wanting a dog for a long time. "I'm so happy," she said.
Brothers Tito and Thomas, 3-month-old Chihuahua Terrier mixes, both found forever homes on Saturday during the Clear the Shelters event at the Humane Society of Greater Miami in Florida. Nicole Wade adopted Tito and friend Suzanne Hosang took home Thomas.
In California, when Kate Rivera first saw a beautiful Siberian Husky at the Irvine Animal Care Center the dog appeared emotionless and did not want to get up. But as soon as Rivera approached the pooch, the Husky jumped up and all the sudden had a bunch of energy and "was accepting of all the love."
"She's the one, she's gotta be the one," Rivera said.
The Husky was one of more than 13,800 pets adopted across the Greater Los Angeles region.
Several facilities around the country reported clearing their shelters over the weekend. In Texas, animal shelters in the cities of Bedford, Cleburne, Murphy, Royse City and Wylie were cleared on Saturday. The Animal Welfare League of Arlington in Virginia and the Kansas Humane Society also emptied their shelters.
The Fredericksburg SPCA in Fredericksburg, Virginia, helped 93 animals find their forever homes on Saturday — leaving only two dogs behind at the end of the day. But on Sunday, Little and Ginger were also picked up and are now in loving homes.
Many other shelters reported record adoptions during Clear the Shelters. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel thanked staffers, volunteers and Chicagoans for helping Chicago Animal Care and Control reach a milestone over the weekend with a record 59 adoptions. The East Bay SPCA had one of its biggest adoption weeks ever, while the Bowling Green-Warren County Humane Society and the Barren River Animal Welfare Association set single day records.
"Congratulations to all the new pet parents who adopted a pet through our Clear the Shelters campaign. Our 2018 campaign was a great success. We couldn’t have inspired thousands of families to open their hearts and homes to shelter pets without the support of our partner shelters, affiliate stations, sponsors Cat’s Pride and Hill’s Pet Nutrition, and our Comcast NBCUniversal family – including our sister networks and all the celebrities who helped us amplify our message of pet adoption and animal welfare issues through their social platforms. Together, we helped thousands of families find their perfect pet, and helped pets finally get a new home to call their own. We look forward for to the return of Clear the Shelters in 2019,” said NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations President Valari Staab.
Still, the need remains great. The number of animals entering shelters each year is about 6.5 million, 3.3 million dogs and 3.2 million cats, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Though the number has declined from about 7.2 million in 2011, with the biggest drop in the number of dogs, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized each year.
On the happier side, about 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted annually and another 710,000 are returned to their owners.
Clear the Shelters began in North Texas in 2014 as a partnership among the NBC and Telemundo stations in Dallas-Fort Worth and dozens of North Texas animal shelters. More than 2,200 homeless animals were adopted that first year, the most in a single day in North Texas.
A year later that number jumped to nearly 20,000 as the adoption drive went national, with more than 400 shelters taking part across the country. Last year, as the event was extended over a month, more than 80,000 pets were adopted from over 900 shelters.