BROOKSVILLE — Nearly 400 shelter dogs and cats overtook the Hernando County Fairgrounds last weekend.
There was Ms. Frizzle, a black and white terrier mix, who hung out in her crate with her pink tongue panting. Gavin, a plump orange and white tabby cat, who sat so still he looked like he was modeling. And Papa Romeo, a tan and white chihuahua, who yapped as people walked past.
Five counties joined together last weekend to find permanent homes for cats and dogs from around the Tampa Bay area. Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough, Citrus and Polk counties, as well as the Humane Society of the Nature Coast, set up temporary shelters for the animals in buildings on the fairgrounds where potential pet owners strolled through, surveying the crated dogs and cats. Spencer Conover, assistant director for Pasco County Animal Services, said 378 dogs and cats were adopted by the end of the weekend.
A roar of barking echoed through the dog displays. Families and couples paced the aisles in search of the perfect pal. The cats' den was far quieter. New owners walked away with their felines in paper carriers.
A Catahoula and retriever mix named Duke found a home with 10-year-old Robert Albee III. Robert and his family, from Brooksville, adopted Duke to add to their crew of two kids and two dogs. They live on several acres, with plenty of room for their pigs, chickens and now three dogs to roam.
Robert said he picked Duke in part because of a restriction from his mom.
"I couldn't pick a pit bull," Robert said. Duke also was one of the few dogs that wasn't barking, and he seemed friendly, Robert said. He led Duke around the fairgrounds on a blue leash.
All fees were waved, so new owners walked away with a vaccinated, neutered and micro-chipped dog for free.
The adoption extravaganza was a collaboration set up by the five counties during their regional meeting, Conover said, the first its kind.
The beginning of summer is a good time to have this event, he said, when people are moving and traveling, which contributes to an increase in animals at shelters.
Conover said the weekend adoptions will create space the shelters desperately need.
Citrus County saw 61 dogs and 17 cats adopted. Hernando had 33 dogs and 25 cats adopted. Hillsborough adopted out 51 dogs. Pasco had 36 dogs adopted. Polk saw 41 dogs and 41 cats adopted. The Humane Society of the Nature Coast adopted out 12 dogs and 61 cats.
During the same weekend last year, seven dogs were adopted from the Pasco shelter, according to Conover.
At home, he and his wife have a black lab and Jack Russell mix named BJ, a mutt named Styx and a cat named Kisa. Conover used to be a sports journalist but enjoys working with animals, something that comes naturally to him.
And even during the event, that came in handy. A tan mixed-breed up for adoption darted out of a building and into the center of the fairgrounds. Conover spotted it right away.
"Loose!" he yelled to let other volunteers know they had a runner.
Conover slowly approached the galloping dog. It slowed down, and he gently placed a lead on it. The mutt was captured.
The national Best Friends Animal Society sponsored the mega-adoption with a $20,000 donation. Of that, $10,000 covered adoption fees and the other half went to covering heart worm treatments.
"We need more people from communities adopting and fostering," said Nichole Dandrea, a Best Friends spokesperson from Atlanta, who was at the event.
Robert's mom, Jodi Simpson, said she finds shelter dogs to be protective in nature, especially when it comes to her two kids, so that's part of why she chose to adopt.
"There's no reason to buy when so many are available," she said.
Because it went so well, Conover said the counties may start offering events like the mega-adoption twice a year. They were thrilled to find happy new homes for the dogs, he said, especially for long-term residents of the shelters that had been there for weeks or months.