Tonia Sewell thought that she and her boyfriend would keep the pointer-mix puppy for just five days, until Saturday's Clear the Shelters adoption drive at the Humane Society of Greater Miami.
But instead of giving up the puppy, they decided to keep it. Call it a foster fail.
“The biggest successful foster fail,” Sewell, of Miami Beach, said over the hubbub at the Humane Society Saturday morning.
Clear the Shelters, the third annual pet adoption drive sponsored by the NBC- and Telemundo-owned television stations, culminated Saturday with more than 900 shelters participating in 76 communities across the country. More than 60,000 animals have found homes since this year’s event was launched in the last month. More than 20,000 adoptions were made on Saturday alone.
To encourage families to find a new pet, whether puppies, older cats, rabbits or iguanas, all of the participating animal shelters and rescue organizations reduced or waived adoption fees.
At the Humane Society of Greater Miami, which saw almost 100 adoptions during last year's event, there was a line outside before the shelter opened Saturday morning. An hour in, about 100 people had come through looking for a pet.
“We’re hoping to break last year’s record for sure,” said Toni Diaz, the associate director of development.
The more than 60,000 adoptions across the nation did break a record, topping the 54,000 pets that found forever homes in 2016. More than 7,000 pets alone were adopted in both the Los Angeles area and North Texas.
One dog got famous before he was adopted.
On Friday, Tux chomped down on an NBC Los Angeles reporter's microphone on "Today in LA" at a shelter in Pasadena, California. The next day, he walked out its doors to cheers when he was recognized as "the dog that bit the microphone."
In New Jersey, John Scannivino was undaunted when a Bergen County Animal Shelter worker warned him that the little chihuahua mix he'd been introduced to had a heart murmer.
"That's terrific!" he replied. "I have a heart murmur too!"
In North Miami Beach, Sewell and her boyfriend, Michael Yimer, had already fostered some kittens and thought they would take a break when the Humane Society called about the puppy, which looks like a Jack Russell terrier. Yimer had always wanted a dog, she said.
“It was meant to be,” she said. “We fostered him for a week. He got along with our cats and that was it.”
The couple renamed the dog Viper after a character in one of Yimer's favorite movies, “Top Gun.”
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 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.
In the Washington, D.C., area, dogs, cats, a guinea pig and a sun parakeet were adopted in the first hours of the adoption drive. Marcel Green of Gaithersburg, Maryland, lined up early — at 4 a.m. outside the Humane Rescue Alliance — to find a dog for his mother. More than six hours later he and his father, Bruce, were headed home with a 2-month-old chocolate colored puppy.
On the opposite side of the dog-cat divide was Raymond White, from Washington, D.C., who spotted a gray-and-white cat while watching the local NBC station.
“They said, 'Come and adopt a cat,' and I always wanted one,” he said.
White named his cat Blessed.
Squirt, an appropriately tiny Chihuahua, left the OC Animal Care shelter in Orange, California, with Elizabeth Vroom of Anaheim. Vroom stopped by the shelter on Friday and picked him out then.
“He was just a sweetheart,” she said.
At the Collin County Animal Services shelter in McKinney, Texas, more than 150 cats and dogs were available for adoption.
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, though that number was eclipsed this Saturday, with hours left to go in the event.
The next year, the 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, 53,000 pets were adopted from 680 shelters, 13 of which were emptied.