PALMETTO -- Christmas has come and gone, but Manatee County residents can still revel in the joy of receiving presents before the new year, courtesy of the county's Animal Services Department.
Beginning Thursday, the department is offering free adoptions for cats and dogs. The special ends Saturday.
More than 40 dogs and cats are available for adoption and can be visited at either of the county's two service locations: 305 25th St. W., Palmetto, and 1002 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.
All pets adopted will receive a health check and be microchipped, spayed, neutered and vaccinated, including rabies shots. New owners will have to purchase a $15 license certificate or tag, which is required for Manatee residents. Those living outside the county's jurisdiction can walk away with a pet, at no charge.
"Free is the best number for people," said Joel Richmond, enforcement supervisor for Manatee County Animal Services.
Steven and Katie Hansen, who live just north of the Manatee County line in Sun City, were at the Palmetto facility Thursday looking to adopt. While walking through the halls of the adoption center, they met George, a 13-month-old shepherd mix on his way back from a late morning walk.
It was love at first sight.
"We said we wanted to look at him," said Katie, a mother of two young girls who is also pregnant with twin boys.
The family, including their two young girls, played with George in a play area inside the facility.
"He's very gentle with kids," Katie said.
"It's important for us to have a calm dog to interact with the kids," Steven said.
Both facilities are at capacity, Richmond said, and finding a home for the animals is a priority to avoid any health complications.
"If they stay here too long, they can get sick," he said. "They can get cage anxiety."
Many of the animals are strays, Richmond said, and were not claimed by owners. In some instances, Richmond said owners won't search for their pets because they've escaped multiple times.
It puts the animal in a bad situation.
"When they give up on their animal, you never know what can happen," Richmond said. "They can get sick, hit by a car or catch a disease."
Ten of the animals available for adoptions are pit bulls that are part of the shelter's Pit Bull Program, in which the dogs are rehabilitated by volunteers.
"They're all very friendly" Richmond said.
As George played fetch with the Hansens, it was hard to determine who was more thrilled with the connection.
Not too long into their introduction, Katie said it was safe to say George will be the newest addition of the family, though they'll probably change his name.
For more information on Manatee pet adoptions, call 941-742-5933.
Nick Williams, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams.