by Beth Reese Cravey, The Florida Times-Union.
Four years ago First Coast No More Homeless Pets invited Northeast Florida animal shelters and rescue groups to fill a huge Jacksonville Fairgrounds exhibit hall with adoptable dogs and cats for three days. About 900 animals found new homes at that first Mega Adoption Event.
Since then, 13,249 animals have been adopted at local mega events, which are sponsored by Petco and organized three or four times a year at the fairgrounds. The record mega adoption tally was 1,164 in July 2014, according to the nonprofit, which runs two low-cost veterinary clinics and leads Jacksonville’s no-kill effort.
Now First Coast No More Homeless Pets has begun to help other animal welfare organizations across the country stage their own large-scale adoption events, mentoring them on logistics, marketing and other issues. The first such out-of-town advice was for the inaugural mega in early December by Brandywine Valley SPCA in Chester, Pa.
Brandywine staff and volunteers did the work, while First Coast founder and CEO Rick DuCharme provided guidance and encouragement.
“I held their hand throughout the whole thing,” he said.
When Brandywine ran out of adoptable animals two days into its three-day event, DuCharme even mobilized the Northeast Florida animal rescue community to truck almost 100 dogs and cats from Jacksonville to Pennsylvania to fill some of the empty crates.
“Duval County is nationally recognized for our no-kill status and this is one more example of our communities’ passion for the mission of helping dogs and cats find new homes — wherever they might be,” he said.
Leading the Way
When Brandywine staff first pondered having a large-scale adoption, they knew where to go for advice. CEO Adam Lamb, who formerly worked in Lakeland, knew DuCharme and Denise Deisler, executive director of the Jacksonville Humane Society, a First Coast partner agency. He knew about their success with mega events and reaching no-kill status in Jacksonville, which means at least 90 percent of shelter animals leave alive.
“They are very big [in animal rescue],” said June Iv, Brandywine’s chief development officer. “Everybody in Florida knows them.”
Including the Northeast Florida animals, 886 dogs and cats were adopted at the Brandywine event, she said. The event went so well that Brandywine is already planning its second mega sometime in 2017.
“It was very successful. We were shocked by how successful,” Iv said. “We were thinking 500. That was crazy for a first-time deal.”
Pennsylvania is not exactly in First Coast’s service area, but DuCharme said helping shelters across the country falls in line with the nonprofit’s overall mission: ending the killing of shelter animals in Jacksonville, Northeast Florida and the nation, he said.
Jacksonville achieved no-kill status in 2014. Meanwhile, First Coast also helps neighboring counties work toward the no-kill goal through free and low-cost spay/neuter and adoption initiatives and programs that help struggling families keep their pets, among other things.
Also, many shelters and rescues across North Florida participate in the mega events. The mega concept was patterned after similar but smaller-scale events at Best Friends Animal Society in Utah, which is a national no-kill leader and has funded various First Coast initiatives. Initially, DuCharme, Deisler and Scott Trebatoski, then director of Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services, had joint adoption events at their three locations. Then they worked “hand in hand … to structure, refine, set up and carry out mega events” at the larger Fairgrounds venue and share the idea with other areas, Deisler said.
“Megas have benefited animal welfare through both marketing efforts focused on adoption and by providing additional adoption avenues — especially for some of the smaller groups,” she said. Also, they “provide great selection in one place for potential adopters,” Deisler said.
Brandywine’s Iv agreed. Many potential adopters are more likely to go to a “fair-type atmosphere” to adopt a pet than to a shelter, which some people find depressing, she said.
Adoption numbers at Jacksonville’s megas have declined in recent years — 668 animals found homes at the December event — but that does not necessarily indicate that fewer animals are being adopted in the community, Deisler said. Several factors are at work, such as shelters having more regular marketing efforts during the year.
“The novelty may be wearing off as well,” she said. DuCharme said local media outlets do not give the events as much attention as they once did.
But megas will remain “a very significant adoption program,” Deisler said. “That Jacksonville is considered a model community for mega and other progressive and successful animal welfare practices is a feather [in the community’s cap] for sure — a very positive statement about an engaged and compassionate community,” she said.
Committed to the Cause.
Now DuCharme is seeking additional funding to expand First Coast’s mega-reach to as many as 25 animal rescue organizations across the country. How First Coast and its local partner agencies responded to the animal shortage at the Brandywine event shows their commitment to the cause, he said.
“When I was first notified that they had been so successful, I knew it was an opportunity, but I also knew few teams could rally so quickly to make this happen in less than 10 hours,” DuCharme said, referring to the overnight transport of animals from Jacksonville-area shelters to Pennsylvania.
Such long-distance transport goes both ways at First Coast. Among the adoptable animals at the Dec. 16-18 mega event in Jacksonville were 28 dogs rescued four months earlier from floodwaters in Lafayette and Baton Rouge, La. The dogs were nursed back to health by volunteers at the Saint Tammany Humane Society, just north of New Orleans, and brought to Jacksonville for adoption. Each of them found new homes.
First Coast No More Homeless Pets To make an appointment or get more information, call (904) 425-0005. To donate or ask fundraising-related questions, call 904.520.7900. Clinics are at 464 Cassat Ave. and 6817 Norwood Ave., both in Jacksonville.