A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

‘Naïve’ Students Hold Record Adoption

Blow away previous 25-pet record with 131 adoptions

Lauren Gray (left) and Patty Dingman with two freshly neutered foster kittens. Since black kittens frequently get overlooked by adopters, the students used colored nail caps (called SoftPaws) to draw attention to them. These caps are also a humane way to keep cats from clawing furniture.

Gainesville, Florida: When University of Florida veterinary students announced they were going to save all of the animals at the local shelter, advisors warned them of potential heartache.

The students know what they’re up against. They visit Alachua County Animal Services weekly as part of their shelter medicine rotation, and also volunteer to foster pets for local rescue groups.

The sliding economy has more people giving up their animals and avoiding adopting new pets. In June, the kill rate for cats at ACAS was 91 percent of the 450 cats admitted, compared to “only” 64 percent in June 2009. Dogs fared a little better; 124 of the 322 dogs that entered the shelter were put down.

With all this in mind, faculty members like Dr. Julie Levy thought the students were being a little naïve in their goal to save all of the animals at the shelter. “Previous adoption events,” she noted, “had never resulted in more than 25 adoptions.”

Not to be deterred, the students convinced the shelter to stop killing adoptable animals in preparation for an “adopt-a-thon” on July 17. One student, Lauren Gray (left in the photo), was in the shelter when she saw kittens on their way to the euthanasia room. She offered to foster them until the adopt-a-thon, then contacted her classmates who came forward as well.

“In all, the vet students took home 43 kittens and adult cats until they could make their re-appearance at the event,” Lauren said. “We recruited faculty volunteers to help spay and neuter more than 100 cats and dogs, tested for infectious diseases, and implanted identification microchips in the week running up to the adopt-a-thon.”

Armed with recently published research showing the success of adoptions and the depth of the subsequent human-animal bond was not correlated with the amount of adoption fees paid, the students set out to raise funds to incentivize adoptions with subsidized fees. They initially planned that the adoption fees for the first 10 animals would be only $5 (reduced from $85 for dogs and $75 for cats). When word of the plan spread, local residents joined the life-saving campaign by donating money to sponsor additional adoptions. Ultimately, local animal lover Gladys Cofrin matched all of the donations, making it possible for every animal in the shelter to be adopted for only $5.

The students hired a radio station to broadcast live from the event, and the local newspaper ran a front-page story about the plan to save the shelter animals. The community rallied to the news of the animals’ plight. On the morning of the event, shelter staff arrived to find a line of families waiting at the locked gate.

The crowd was so overwhelming that the event was extended to two days in order to accommodate all of the families that wanted to adopt. In the end, 114 cats and dogs were adopted, 6 animals were transferred to adoption-guarantee shelters, and 11 cats remained in the foster care of students as they recovered from shelter-acquired respiratory infections.

For a brief time that week, there were no more animals available for adoption and no animals were put down at the shelter. Naïve or not, the students accomplished their mission.