They waited through the heat and the night, sleeping in shifts, some not at all. They skipped work, skipped meals and ran down their car batteries for the air conditioning. Finally, the words they were waiting for came through a bullhorn at 8:52 a.m. "It's time," bellowed Bill Armstrong, director of Hillsborough County Animal Services, prompting cheers from the nearly 100 people who had waited outside the building Thursday for the chance to adopt 23 dogs.
Not just any dogs — Yorkie puppies, a designer breed that often sells for about $1,000 per dog.
The Yorkshire terriers were among 60 dogs rescued from two alleged puppy mills in Seffner last week and were being offered to the right owners for $65, plus a $10 license. The dogs were vaccinated, sterilized and implanted with microchips to identify them.
All 23 Yorkie puppies were gone in an hour. Dozens of disappointed people left empty-handed.
Inside, hundreds of other animals were still waiting for homes.
Didn't anyone want them?
• • •
Delaine Bacon was first in line for a Yorkie puppy. She showed up at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and had a "1" written on her hand in Sharpie ink to prove it.
Bacon, 50, knows where these Yorkie puppies came from. She had adopted eight Yorkies from one of the alleged puppy mills over the years, some for nearly $1,000 each. (McKenzie, Monroe and Malcolm died. Montana, Madison and Tinkerbell were given to friends. Bacon still owns Maggie and Matilda.)
When word came and the barricade opened outside the animal services shelter, Bacon stepped into a hallway lined with wagging tails and hanging tongues and quickly made a decision.
"I think this is the one," she said, admiring a 9-week-old female, one more Yorkie to add to her family.
Those who weren't among the first in line snacked on donated food from Bob Evans and Krispy Kreme while they waited.
They discussed potential names and other dogs they had at home. They talked about the good deal they were getting and said it felt good to adopt dogs that had been rescued.
Outside about an hour after the Yorkie rush, Sandy Henrichs, 54, sighed. "All the people who spent the night got the dogs," she said. "Yeah, I'm disappointed."
A man walked up and looked at her, a worried look on his face. "Where are all the little dogs?" he asked.
"All gone," Henrichs said.
• • •
There's space for about 400 cats and 400 dogs in the animal services shelter at 440 N Falkenburg Road. Typically, about 20 animals are adopted daily and about 70 are impounded or dropped off.
"It's never-ending," said Greg Berhow, animal services' business analyst.
Last year, 22,321 animals were euthanized here — about 6,000 dogs and about 15,500 cats. In Pinellas, 14,516 animals were euthanized.
"It really is a shame the numbers of animals here that maybe don't have the aesthetics, the beauty-contest kind of thing, but would give just as much love, affection and devotion as a purebred," Armstrong said after the frenzy waned.
Animals with identification can be euthanized if they aren't claimed within 10 days. Strays have five days. They are killed because they are too sick or aggressive, or to make room for the dozens of others that need shelter.
The Humane Society and local rescue groups scoop up as many as they have room for and try to find them homes, too. Still, only 5,970 dogs and cats were taken by rescue groups or adopted into homes last year.
It can be frustrating for Armstrong, who has two adopted cats and a dog of his own, all "Heinz 57 mixed breeds," photos of which adorn his desk.
"If you close your eyes for six months, and you've had this warm, fuzzy little thing sitting in your lap, but instead of a Yorkie it's a mixed terrier, do you care at that point? Heck no," he said.
Although the Yorkies are valuable, animal services officials said they have no control over what happens to them once they leave. They could be sold for profit, but most who showed up said they were there just to love them. They wanted Yorkies, and the price was a bargain.
Still, animal services officials encouraged people who didn't get Yorkies on Thursday to consider another dog. Some went inside to look.
Four other dogs, seven cats and three birds were adopted. Most left without a dog, cat or bird.
About 500 other animals are still caged inside.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3386.