Inside WRAL

My experience: 'Clear the Shelters' was inspiring, successful

Posted July 24
Updated August 23

— I thought "Clear the Shelters" was just a clever name for Saturday's free pet adoption event. I never expected the shelters to actually empty, saving hundreds of furry lives locally and thousands across the country.

By 3 p.m. Saturday, it was getting difficult for some people to find adoptable dogs in Wake, Orange, Durham, Person, Edgecombe and Moore counties. Even cats, which usually pack shelters, were being adopted at rapid rates - and that's a good thing.

I was recruited to play reporter for the day and traveled to five local shelters to collect pet adoption stories, interview shelter workers and capture all the joy that surrounded the second annual Clear the Shelters event.

To be honest, I was a little nervous.

I rescued Gatsby, my pug beagle mix, exactly one year ago from a shelter in Angier. I had saved one life, yes, but I knew that he was just one of millions of stray animals desperately in need of a home. All year, but especially in the summer, shelters are packed with animals, and there's just not enough room for everyone.

Gatsby and Jessica

The point is, I wasn't convinced that I would leave my Clear the Shelters shift without a new furry family member in tow. I knew it would break my heart to see so many dogs and cats leftover in the shelters when the event ended at 6 p.m.

I didn't need to worry. Even if I had visited the shelters with the intention of finding a new pet, it would have been a challenge to find a dog small enough for my tiny apartment. Dogs of all sizes, big and small, were leaving local shelters with their new families at alarming rates, and by late afternoon, the selection was dwindling. When my day ended, most shelters could count on one hand the number of dogs they had available, and there weren't a lot of cats left, either.

The adoptions started early. Let me rewind to my first and busiest stop of the day - The Animal Protection Society of Durham. I arrived at the building by 10 a.m. and was surprised to see that a line of potential adopters was already wrapping around the building.

The chaos was organized, though, and the shelter had upped their volunteers and staff to accommodate the popular event.

"We are taking people through all the adoption forms and screening processes while they wait in line," said Victor, a staff member at the shelter. "That way, by the time they make it inside, they are ready to pick out their new pet."

Inside, I met a few people who had already selected a new family member. Kristan and Andrew, for example, were excited about their new addition, Skittles, and they happily posed for me. Another man was waiting for volunteers to bring him his newly-adopted dog.

Soon, WRAL-TV's social media accounts were exploding with questions from people who hadn't heard about Clear the Shelters. Via Facebook Live, I explained that eight local shelters had waived their pet adoption fees, causing thousands of animal lovers to flood the facilities.

As it turns out, Saturday's event broke adoption records at shelters across the country. Over 900 animals were adopted locally, and more than 40,000 were adopted nationally, which is more than double the number recorded last year during Clear the Shelters.

I traveled to five shelters during the day-long event, and, based on what I saw, that statistic is not surprising. By the time I'd arrived at my second stop, the Person County Animal Services center in Roxboro, crowds were gone, and only three dogs and one kitten were left for adoption.

It was only 11:30 a.m.

"It was absolutely crazy this morning," said Nicki, a staff member at the shelter.

After visiting the four remaining animals and posting their photos for potential adopters, I headed back towards Wake County, planning to stop at the Orange County Animal Services center on my way. When I arrived, "I'm adopted signs" were covering many of the cages.

"We have a bunch of people waiting to go through the screening process right now," said a staff member.

When I arrived at my fourth stop, the Wake County Animal Center, I could only find three dogs that hadn't been adopted. It was absolutely incredible, and, for the first time ever, I left an animal shelter feeling like it wasn't my responsibility to save a life and take someone home.

Although I didn't visit Raleigh's Safe Haven for Cats, 61 cats were rescued during Clear the Shelters, and the rescue is offering an adoption discount Sunday for the remaining cats.

A lot of people were concerned that, with no adoption fee, the animals wouldn't go to good homes, but officials at each and every shelter told me that, despite the $0 deposit, adopting families were being screened as always. "We have to make sure that the animal is a good fit for your family," said Dr. Jenn, Animal Services Director at the Wake County Animal Center.

The shelters are saying the event was a success and that it was "even better than last year." Even WRAL reporter Julia Sims adopted a new cat with her family during the event.

The event will repeat next year, but don't forget that animals are waiting to be adopted at local shelters every day.

"People didn't just save the lives of the pets they adopted today," said Dr. Jenn. "They opened up spaces so we can save even more animals tomorrow."

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