Shelter pets find their forever homes at Miami Mega Match-A-Thon

Nicole Clark and Lenox Cruthers stood in line for seven hours to reunite with a familiar face – a 6-month-old German Shepherd mix named Chase.

The couple had fostered Chase, a stray dog rescued by Miami-Dade Animal Services, since August. They took care of the dog until he was ready to join more than 300 other adoptable pets at Tropical Park for the annual Miami-Dade Animal Services Mega Match-A-Thon. During the 24-hour event last weekend, 204 animals found permanent homes.

Clark and Cruthers grew up around pets but had yet to own a dog together as adults. They signed up for the foster parent program in July and received Chase after selecting him from a list. To them, it was love at first sight.

“When we saw Chase, he had this little floppy ear and he just looked really cute,” Clark said. “Once we picked him up and got to know him, we knew he was actually the perfect dog.”

Because he was already house trained and healthy, Chase was likely lost or abandoned by his previous owners. Miami-Dade Animal Services took in about 30,000 dogs and cats in 2018, according statistics provided by the county. Of those, about 9,000 ended up in new homes.

Clark and Cruthers knew they wanted to adopt the dog a week into fostering him, but he was set up to be placed in the 24-hour adoption event and had to be returned to Miami-Dade Animal Services.

There was no guarantee that Chase would be theirs on Saturday – they were only provided with his identification number. They were told to arrive early because it would be a first-come, first-served event. Based off previous years, Clark and Cruthers were warned that hundreds of people were likely to attend the event. They made a commitment to stay all 24 hours if they had to.

A seven-hour line was the least of their worries. They were concerned with having to cycle through the line if Chase was not in the first wave of dogs being displayed, and even considered taking turns sleeping in their cars. As dogs and cats were adopted throughout the day and night, others would be brought out to fill in the empty cages.

“I think we got really lucky,” Clark said. “When we walked in, we heard his bark and saw him so we [yelled his name] and he was super excited to see us again.”

The happy ending marked the first adoption of the night.

Apart from the $30 tag fee, adoption fees were waived for adult dog adoptions, as well as for cats and kittens. Puppies younger than four months were available for adoption at the regular fee of $85. All adopted pets were spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped.

The event, which ran from Friday at 11:59 p.m. to Saturday at 11:59 p.m., included food trucks, a beer garden with samples from the Biscayne Bay Brewing Company, Miami Heat dancers and the mascot Burnie, a farmer’s market as well as a kids zone with a carousel, Ferris wheel and bounce houses.

At the front of the line at about 9 p.m. Friday, Natalia Vargas and Carlos Pantoja said they were looking for the dog their friend had fostered, a white terrier mix they would name Luna. Vargas saw Luna on the friend’s Instagram, thought she was adorable and had to go see her.

“I kept hanging around [Luna] for the past week and a half and she pretty much fell in love with me as I fell in love with her,” Vargas said.

Vargas and Pantoja didn’t realize just how big this event would be, nor that anyone in front of them could easily adopt Luna before they could get the chance to see her.

“I was so scared that someone would get to her before me and my anxiety level was at 100 percent,” Vargas said, who adopted the dog a bit past midnight Saturday. “I was very lucky that they knew how much I loved her and wanted her, and I think everything worked out.”

Natalia Vargas plays with her newly adopted dog Luna on Saturday, who she and boyfriend Carlos Pantoja were eager to see again. (Bianca Marcof/SFMN)

Before a pet can be put up for adoption, it must meet certain qualifications: be socially fit, healthy and able to care for itself. Foster parents help homeless, sick or young pets get to that point, after which they can be adopted.

According to Miami-Dade Animal Services foster coordinator Viviana Andrade, there are currently more than 600 foster parents available to take in the animals, with around 50 new families added every month. Around 200 pets get sent out to these families monthly.

To foster a pet, Miami-Dade residents must complete an application on the Miami-Dade County Animal Services website and attend an orientation. However, only volunteers at the Pet Adoption and Protection Center can foster puppies. Additionally, foster parents are not guaranteed to be able to adopt the pets they take in.

Flora Beal, a spokesperson for Miami-Dade County Animal Services, said foster pet parents provides a vital service to the community.

“We’re asking you to care for them and bring them back because we’re going to put them at an event where we’re going to get them adopted out,” Beal said.

The Miami-Dade shelter has been a no-kill shelter since 2015, meaning it saves up to 90 percent of all pets. Instances that call for euthanasia include extreme aggressiveness and intolerable pain.

“It’s important to care for these animals until you can’t take care of them anymore,” Beal said about making a pet’s final days as comfortable as possible.

Chase’s owner, Clark, said she recommends fostering to everyone.

“It provides them with a home and provides them comfort. It’s a good bonding experience too,” she said.

Bianca Marcof is a journalism major at Florida International University. She is interested in multimedia reporting, but her favorite thing to do is write.

Pablo Alvarez, a Cuban and Puerto Rican American, has interest in writing anything and everything regarding politics, the environment, community stories and much more. He wants to write groundbreaking stories that matter to readers and have an impact on them.