BROOKSVILLE — The small lobby at Hernando County Animal Services was packed Friday morning, and much of the business could be attributed to a special deal the shelter was offering.
Dogs and kittens: vaccinated and spayed or neutered for $10 (and adult cats for $5). The offer ends today.
One woman from Pasco County was thrilled to adopt a bouncy little black chihuahua. Another couple was pointing and watching a batch of calico kittens as they romped in a cat interaction room. Families wandered along the dog kennels, looking at the sad eyes and wagging tails of the dogs, all hoping to find new homes.
For Shannon Finch, it was gratifying to see all the activity. On Thursday alone, 15 animals were placed in homes.
"Hey, it's all smiles right now,'' said Finch, the shelter's animal advocate, rescue and volunteer coordinator.
The story had been much sadder just days earlier, when Finch sent out an urgent call to the rescue community. The shelter was overcrowded — 28 dogs and 35 cats over capacity, at least in part because of a recent hoarding case.
"The shelter was given a deadline,'' Finch wrote in her letter. "We need to be in compliance with our numbers by July 28.''
After that, animals would have to be euthanized.
"The shelter is pleading for your help and assistance," Finch wrote. "We have amazing dogs and cats here that truly deserve a chance at happiness; we do not want these animals euthanized due to lack of space.''
The letter sparked not only a rush on animals, but also a flurry of angry letters from local animal advocates who were involved in the push two years ago to make shelter improvements in order to get more animals adopted and fewer euthanized.
Richard Silvani, executive director of the PetLuv NonProfit Spay & Neuter clinic, blasted the county in a letter that questioned why the shelter was suddenly going to enforce census limits that previously had been flexible to accommodate fluctuating numbers of animals. He blamed a recent social media blitz alleging terrible conditions at the shelter because of overcrowding.
"Despite the ignorant and inflammatory claims lighting up Facebook, the animals at (Animal Services) are not suffering or being treated inhumanely,'' Silvani wrote. "Yes, some of them are being temporarily cramped for space, but isn't that better than being dead?"
Finch said she hopes the special deal brings in enough adopters to avoid having to euthanize animals. She also said she wants people to know that the shelter staff cares about the animals. To Finch, each is an extension of her family.
People should consider the shelter the next time they want a pet, she said, rather than going to a pet store, checking Craigslist or looking for a breeder.
"They deserve the chance,'' she said.