Daniel Minnick was looking for a certain kind of dog, a small adult with short hair, and he was willing to suffer a little to get one.
On a chilly Saturday morning, he took the first place in line outside the 23rd Street Armory in Philadelphia at 6:15.
Cathy Reed, of Overbrook, was right behind him, hoping to find a puppy her 13-year-old son wouldn't be embarrassed to walk. "He doesn't want to walk a little curly-haired dog," she said. They'd already settled on a macho name: Thor.
"This is the love of a mom," she said.
By the time the doors opened at 10 a.m., the line stretched two blocks.
Minnick, Reed, and all the others were hoping to find a lovable pet at a discount price at what was billed as one of the largest pet adoption events in the Northeast. Organizers of the three-day MEGA Adoption Event, the first of its kind in the region, expected to feature 1,000 cats and dogs before the doors close at 6 p.m. Sunday.
It is sponsored by Petco Foundation and includes animals from Brandywine Valley SPCA, Last Chance Ranch, Camden County Animal Shelter, Morris Animal Refuge, ACCT Philly, the Women's Humane Society, and others.
Minnick, who shares a house with Joseph Edinger in Northeast Philadelphia, said they once had four dogs and seven cats, but have been petless since the last of the animals died. He thought a small dog would be better for Edinger, who owns the home and is 77.
When the doors finally opened, people were admitted in groups of 30 or so to prevent overcrowding inside. The first shoppers were welcomed by rows of red-shirted volunteers who cheered their willingness to adopt rescued animals. "I'm going to get a dog today, today," one man said with a grin.
The crowd was drawn in part by the $20 adoption fees, much lower than the $80 to $500 that people would normally have to pay for an animal that has been spay/neutered, vaccinated, and microchipped.
Eli Martinez, development manager for Brandywine SPCA, said he was surprised by how many came Friday, a workday. Martinez was also surprised by how many animals - 415 - found new homes. An additional 277 were adopted Saturday.
All of the puppies and kittens and some of the adult animals at the event were on euthanasia lists, Martinez said.
Martinez said that vans would be delivering new contenders, including puppies, throughout the day.
The main floor was dark and loud with barking dogs and talking humans. People milled through rows of wire cages, as dozens of pairs of hopeful brown eyes peered back at them. The dogs came in all sizes and shapes, but there were more big dogs than small, more adults than puppies, and more pit bull mixes than anything else.
Some of the big dogs wagged their tails so hard they banged on both sides of their cages. Others seemed depressed or frightened.
Naturally, the scene was much more serene on the third floor, adoption central for cats. Many of the potential adoptees up there had a calm take-me-or-leave-me attitude, and the people were quieter too.
Within an hour, there was a line to complete the adoption paperwork. Dogs that moments before had been in cages were enfolded in hugs. Beaming new owners stopped for a celebratory picture with a sign that said, "I found my forever home."
Families grinned. The dogs looked as if they couldn't believe their luck. The new cat owners looked equally thrilled. Their new charges left the building in cardboard carriers.
Crystal Safford and daughter Shayna were looking for a young cat that could get along with their Pekingese dog. "We've got a lot of love in our house, " Safford said. "We felt like we could give some more love." They left with a short-haired, 8-month-old kitten whose fur was a lovely combination of gray and cream. "That's the one," Crystal Safford thought when she saw her.
By 11 a.m., Minnick was in the paperwork line, cradling a small, short-haired brown dog named Brandy. He said she was well worth those chilly hours in line. "She's a beautiful, lovable dog," he said.
And Cathy Reed was thrilled too. She snagged a "beautiful, gorgeous 8-week-old retriever" who arrived after the doors opened. Her son was ecstatic and she was in love. "She's adorable," Reed said of her new puppy.
She? What about Thor? Well, that had to change. "Her name is Maxine," Reed said, "and we're going to call her Max."