2,000+ Animals Adopted as North Texas Empties Its Shelters

Thursday, August 21, 2014 - 11:45am
People packed the lobby of the SPCA of Texas in Dallas

Animal lovers from across the Lone Star State adopted 2,256 cats, kittens, dogs and puppies—and even a few pocket pets—on Saturday, August 16, during “Empty the Shelter Day,” the largest ever pet adoption effort in North Texas, sponsored in part by the ASPCA.

Shelters large and small, municipal and non-profit—33 total—literally emptied their shelters during the one-day, fee-waived adoption event.

“It was a sight to see and the best day of my 18-year career,” said Corey Price, animal services manager for the City of Irving Animal Services, an open-admission shelter. “Veterans of the animal welfare community were left speechless, and shelter workers and volunteers shed tears as they walked past empty kennels and cages.”

It was Price who set the wheels in motion in June for the multiple-shelter collaboration when she and her staff began thinking beyond the smaller scale “Empty the Shelter” event they had hosted in previous years. They pitched the idea to broadcaster NBC5/Telemundo39, which immediately got on board, and began spreading the word.

Shelters signed on like wildfire. NBC5/Telemundo39 provided PSAs and promotional coverage; the ASPCA provided funds for other local advertising and grassroots efforts.

Lines of soon-to-be-adopters
Lines of soon-to-be-adopters began at 7 a.m. at the Humane Society of North Texas in Ft. Worth.

Ann Barnes, executive director of the Humane Society of North Texas, the oldest animal welfare agency in the region, placed more animals—339—than any other single agency, said the event was “all hands on deck” for her team and, despite the Texas heat and long lines, “the community support was overwhelming.”

At Dallas Animal Services, customers waited as long as three hours to adopt but were “patient and committed,” says Rebecca Poling, a board member of the Dallas Companion Animal Project, which supplied volunteers to DAS for the event. “It was not so much about adopting a pet for free as it was about saving lives. The event really gave people the chance to be a part of something.”

“People got the message,” adds Pam Burney, vice president of community initiatives for the ASPCA and who visited several participating shelters during the event. “What’s great is all the shelters did well—even small ones.”

That’s certainly true of North Richland Hills Animal Adoption & Rescue Center, which placed 39 pets during their event. “In 2013, for the entire month of August, we placed less than that—just 34,” says Chun Mezger, humane division supervisor for the City of North Richland Hills. “Our community really supported us.”

Staff at North Richland Hills Animal Adoption & Rescue Center
Staff at North Richland Hills Animal Adoption & Rescue Center rallied in memory of their co-worker Mary Beth Chastain who died of cancer four days earlier. The shelter placed 39 pets during the event—more adoptions than in the entire month of August 2013.

For Chun’s staff, the event was also tinged with sadness. “We just lost one of our own—Mary Beth Chastain, a humane officer—to cancer on Wednesday,” Mezger says. “But our team did an amazing job pulling together to honor Mary Beth by ‘knocking it out of the park’ on Saturday.”

In 2013, aggregate adoptions for the same 33 participating shelters, on the same August day, was just 266, according to Price. The final count for Empty the Shelter Day increased that number nearly ten-fold.

“For the first time ever, our two shelters were nearly empty,” says James Bias, president and CEO of the SPCA of Texas, where just three dogs remained at the organization’s Jan Rees-Jones Animal Care Center in Dallas and its Russell H. Perry Animal Care Center in McKinney stood empty. “In one day, 163 animals found their forever homes—half as many as find homes in any given week.”

handwritten sign: "SORRY NO DOGS LEFT :)"
By 4 PM, HSNT had run out of dogs (Courtesy HSNT)

“We’ve never seen room after room of empty kennels,” adds Barnes, whose organization was out of its 208 dogs by 4 p.m. and by day’s end had also placed 126 cats, two rabbits and three other small mammals. “It was a real morale booster.”

By 2:30 p.m., Dallas Animal Services was out of adoptable pets and began directing clients to its Lost and Found area where they could pre-adopt animals on stray hold if they went unclaimed. “I’d never seen it empty like this since the day we opened,” says Poling. “Pod after pod, row after row. It was almost eerie. But it was a great thing.”

Hazel Russell and Chloe
Hazel Russell of Watauga, Texas adopted Chloe, a Chihuahua, at the N. Richland Hills event. (Courtesy NRHAA&RC)

Despite the myth that fee-waived adoptions don’t yield good homes for cats and dogs, Barnes says her team’s experience during “Empty the Shelter” de-bunked that theory. “Our adoption applications were perfect—just what we wanted for each animal,” she says. Adds the ASPCA’s Burney: “It’s only the fee that was waived, not the criteria. In fact, some adopters visited shelters on Friday and paid fees so they could be sure to get first pick.”

In the end, says Price, the best part was not only the support from the community, but how “participating shelters embraced and ran with the concept.”

“I’m really impressed with the North Texas animal welfare community,” she says. “This is just the beginning.”

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The event organizers ARE tracking returns. A bigger concern is that EVERY participant included the mandatory spay and rabies. Certainly the larger shelters did but worried about smaller towns who just "gave away animals" rather than waiving the adoption fee for the entire adoption package (spay, shots, chip).


Excellent point! I hadn't considered the problem of spay-shots-chip, and you are right, it is a large consideration. I am glad to hear they are tracking returns

Betty Wilde

I hope you screened all those adopers


I agree with so many of those concerned about an adoption event this way! Too many animals will end up in bad homes, strays, etc. just so they shelters can say they had a successful event! Sorry - you have no time to properly Vet the adopters and I would be very interested in seeing how many come back.....I am an animal advocate and lover so this type of event really bothers me. You just KNOW there were some unsavory characters there who had other intentions than to be a great home for a wonderful pet....


This is so great I worked as a volunteer for the L.A. area doing the samething and we hit an all time high of adoption as well... They ran out of pets on the first day and had to go back to the shelter and get more dogs and cats!!! Adoption is big but we still need to control the population with strict spay and neutering... Love this story keep it!!!!


This program should be a regular part of shelter operations from now on. With how succesful it was, I could see a free pet day being offered by any shelter that is at capacity, has a high kill rate, and is able to recuperate from the fiscal loss.

However, this doesn't exucse the fact that county animal shelters should be able to operate purely on tax money, given that they are concerned with living creatures.

This is the case in Germany. Instead of spending billions on their space program and on trying to crack consumer encryption, they spend the money on what is, to them, a more critical issue: empowering every shelter in the country to be no-kill.

It would almost seem that the American political ideal is that animals hold no value as unique, conscious, emotive, living beings, and they are undeserving of the proper allocation to sustain their lives.


As a shelter volunteer I have concerns about people not paying something to adopt a "pet". Did anyone get thurned down because they were not a good match ?. With that many adoptions it would be hard to go through trying to know more about the people that want to take a FREE dog home. Many dogs end up at a shelter because people just didn't think there was so much work in raising a dog or the issues that could come with a new dog or cat. They dIdn't know the dog would get so big, grew fster than the child, digs, noisy, afraid of storms, gets into the waste basket, and so on. No, I am not infavor of free pets. If people don't pay for something they have no personal investment and as soon as the pet no longer fits their need they may toss just like they do with any house hold item that no longer works just right.
I would much rather have a reduced price day or senior pets for seniors , yellow cat and dog sale, but certainly not an all dogs free day.

We are happy when our numbers get down but our goal is not to have an empty shelter but to make to give animals a safe place until a good home can be found.

Pat Finnegan

I have been trying to adopt a dog for close to a year. Every shelter I visited online had an adoption fee of a minimum of $450. I live on Social Security and don't have any extra money a month with the prices going up daily on everything - gas, heating oil, food, medical co-pays and on and on. I worked in the nonprofit field and didn't have an IRA and couldn't afford one so social security is it. After a 1.2% raise this year and the politicians a 6% raise in Washington, as well as the violence in the usa and the idiots on the road driving on your back end or going 90 in a 55mph zone, even driving is no longer safe. I would like to see the adoption fees dropped to $100 to $150. I wish the feds would spend money on shelters instead of stupid wars. Gee, if all the politicians would give their 6% raise to shelters, they would not have to charge $450 and up. I never paid for any of the dogs I adopted - except to give the adoption agency a donation. My last 2 were free so I gave a $150 to the woman who was rescuing dogs in Brooklyn, NY. I do have one dog now who came from a friend who worked for me for 7 years at a women's center.
She was moving and couldn't take the dog with her. She paid for transport to CT from GA. Oh, well, Benji from GA is now 13 and has slowed down considerably since he lost his pal Mollie, who had lost her sister born in the same litter from Brooklyn named Millie.


I am against free adoptions. If they cannot afford any adoption fee, how can they provide for them? How do you know you haven't gotten some crazy people who are going to harm the adopted pet, like the recent case of the two chiquaqua's who were beheaded. What kind of followup are people doing to make certain these placed pets are in good hands?

Certainly if they were all great homes that have a realistic idea of the cost and time, etc. needed to take care of a pet then cool, but this is not the case.

Then you also have to ask, if this is a yearly event, will people wait each year for the free pets and bypass the others during the year who will likely be euthanized. There is more to consider then a one time event and the numbers of pets adopted at that event and I am not getting the information needed to convince me that this is necessarily a good thing - for the pets.

Jaroslava AZ

Absolutely agree with Beth. Free and not knowing much, just fast application? Abusers actually go and pay for animal. So- sorry, I would not be that much happy about empty kennels, I would pray and pray for all of the pups and kitty's. And the doubts are all created by the society we live in. Sad.