MANATEE -- There were 101, not just Dalmatians, but dogs and cats of every breed, age and color that went to new homes this past weekend after a frenzied free adoption special by Manatee County Animal Services.
Each of the 101 has a story to tell, but perhaps none as tender as that of Eunice, a 13-month-old pit bull mix whose new owner is Melissa Kinder, a bid administrator for TDS Construction of Bradenton.
Kinder is actually a volunteer with Animal Services who worked with Eunice at Animal Services in Palmetto 28 or 30 times over the past four months.
Kinder thought she was socializing Eunice for adoption and also getting over her fear of pit bulls, when all the while perhaps it was Eunice who was evaluating her as a new mommy.
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"I thought I was just visiting her, taking her out for the day on Saturdays, taking her home with me overnight once in a while. I didn't plan on adopting her," Kinder said. "But I liked spending time with her."
Kinder found Eunice to be sweet and gentle.
"Oh my God, it's so funny," Kinder said. "I can now walk down the hall and go into any pit bull cage, sit on the floor and not think, 'I'm with a pit bull who can maul my face at any moment.' I don't feel that way anymore.'
There was a moment in the four months when a family came and wanted to see Eunice. Kinder was rooting for the family to adopt Eunice. The kids were playing with Eunice but Eunice only stared at Kinder.
The family said they would come back but didn't.
On Friday, Kinder found herself renting a house with a fenced back yard, giving up her former place that didn't allow dogs. She rushed to get the water turned on and, on Saturday, adopted Eunice.
"We're cleaning and painting," Kinder said Sunday. "We bought her some toys. She's a little nervous. If I leave the room she's wondering, 'Where is she?' I think she's attached to me."
And, perhaps, vice versa.
Adoption weekend 'crazy busy'
Animal Services expected a strong response from the free dog and cat adoption special that ran Thursday through Saturday, but when the kitty litter settled, 51 dogs and 50 cats had new homes, a total that astounded veteran animal care workers.
"We've never had a turn-out like this," said Nicki Bentley, Manatee County Animal Services shelter supervisor.
During the spree, the county broke its one-day adoption record with 43 dogs and cats adopted Friday, breaking the old mark of 27 at an adoption event in October, Bentley said.
The adoption event was so successful that by 3 p.m. Saturday the county's downtown adoption center on Manatee Avenue West ran completely out of animals to adopt, Bentley said.
Although the downtown adoption center and other county facilities will be closed today and Tuesday in observance of the New Year's holiday, the downtown adoption center will remain closed Wednesday and probably through Friday simply because there are no animals ready to be brought there from Palmetto.
When animals come into Manatee County Animal Services they are seen by veterinarians at the Palmetto shelter, 305 25th St. W., where they are vaccinated, spayed and neutered and prepared to be shown there or brought to downtown Bradenton.
There are still a handful of animals that were not ready to be shown over the weekend and will be available for adoption soon, Bentley said.
"I am so happy," said Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who serves as liaison to Animal Services. "This is a great way to start the new year. I heard it was just crazy busy at both the downtown adoption center and the Animal Services shelter in Palmetto."
Although the event sparked crowds eager to get an animal for absolutely no money if they were taken out of county and just $15 for a license if they were to reside in county, there wasn't the squabbling one might think.
"Every single member of my staff was doing adoptions," Bentley said. "People would come up to us with the card from the animal's cage and say, 'I want this animal now.' It was instant adoption. No one bounced from animal to animal. There were a few instances where we had to tell people, 'That dog or cat has already been adopted,' but by the time those people left they were adopting something else."
The regular adoption fees are $80 for dogs and $40 for cats.
Those fees include spay or neuter, vaccines, health checks and an adoption kit with pet food, Whitmore said.
The free adoption program is part of the county's effort to be a no-kill county, Bentley said.
Nine years ago, when Bentley joined Animal Services, she estimates that only 30 to 40 percent of all animals taken in by the county found homes.
But now, with new marketing, including social media, and expanded facilities, the rate of adoption has soared to 85 percent, with the ultimate goal 90 percent, Bentley said.
Animal Services estimates roughly 10 percent of animals brought to the county can't be saved due to health problems and other issues.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686 or tweet @RichardDymond.