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Thousands apply for Hillsborough lottery to adopt ’the most playful little dogs’

Officials rescued more than 300 dogs from a puppy mill in September.

In just days, more than 300 rescue dogs who SIT! and STAY! in Hillsborough County facilities will finally be able to COME! home.

Officials seized the dogs — mostly small breeds like poodle mixes, Shih Tzus and terriers — from a dangerous puppy mill in Tampa in September.

Prospective puppy families jumped at the chance to adopt one, flooding the county’s pet resource center with questions. By the time people could apply in person at the All People’s Life Center for an adoption lottery on Sunday, a high turnout was expected.

County spokesman Todd Pratt arrived at 5:30 in the morning to find a long line.

“I bet you by the time it opens there’s a minimum of 100 people in line,” he told a woman waiting. In fact, there were 200.

By the end of the day, some 3,000 people visited the facility to fill out forms and play with the few dogs that were there. Staff wanted to show typical examples of the rescued puppies, like a small poodle mix, said Scott Trebatoski, director of pet resources.

Even the largest adult dog in the set weighed no more than 15 pounds or so, he said.

“All in all, it’s going to be cute little dogs.”

As a result of the high demand, and because county officials wanted to discourage people from re-selling the dogs, they charged a higher fee than normal: $450 for puppies younger than 6 months old, $300 for the rest.

Forms asked for applicants’ name and address (Hillsborough residents received a discount on the fee) and screened for recent convictions of animal cruelty or neglect. Applicants could choose whether they would adopt any dog or “puppy only.”

More than 1,300 households applied by the end of the day, Trebatoski said. That means that, if approved, each household would have about a one-in-four shot at adopting a dog.

They’ll find out this week, as the county plans to draw the names Thursday morning. Winners will get an email. The center will make another offer to every one else: half-off an adoption fee if they choose to adopt one of its other pets, Trebatoski said.

The director said the interest in the puppy mill rescues also spurred people to adopt other dogs.

“We actually had some people who decided not to sign up for the lottery because they thought they were going to be bigger dogs,” he said.

He said this set of lottery dogs adapted to being around people more quickly than expected. Owners should keep in mind that they may be very social and can even become clingy because of their separation anxiety.

“They were the most playful little dogs.”