San Diegans answered the call Saturday to help hundreds of shelter animals find loving homes during NBC 7 and Telemundo 20's fifth Clear the Shelters event.
About 3,330 of dogs, cats, rabbits and other shelter animals have a chance at a new life thanks to the love of residents from across San Diego County, who showed up hordes at more than a dozen shelters for the annual adoption event.
In San Diego, an additional 1,000 animals found loving families this year compared to last year's Clear the Shelters. Across the nation, more than 90,000 pets were adopted.
Golden retriever puppy Nala was the first animal to be adopted Saturday from the San Diego Humane Society's Gaines Street location when the doors opened at 10 a.m.
Her new owner, Meg Taylor, lined up outside the facility at 4:30 a.m. and waited hours because she knew Nala was the one for her, she told NBC 7.
Dozens of other San Diegans were right behind her, eager to find a new addition to their family. By 3 p.m., nearly 800 pets had been adopted at the nine participating shelters across the county.
Telemundo 20's Mar Gonzalez couldn't even wait for the doors to open to give a pet a loving home. Before the event officially launched, Gonzalez had adopted Silvi.
"She’s very friendly. She’s a Pitbull and we just bonded right away," Gonzalez said. "I saw her and I was like 'I need to take her home.'"
While pet owners were rescuing dogs from their time in the shelter, adopted animals would also serve larger purposes for their new owners. Katelynn Cappy, for example, adopted Trix, a Blue Heeler-Australian Shepherd mix, to become a support animal.
"She’s going to become a companion dog for abused women. All of the sexual assault and domestic violence cases, she’ll become kind of the ease of mind," Cappy said.
Ahead of the event, dozens of rescue pet owners, like Phoenix resident Chamila Northum, encouraged others to adopt by sharing their heartfelt stories with NBC 7 reporters.
"If people haven’t tried, you know, adopting a dog, they should go out and do it, because it will change your life," said Northum, who was visiting San Diego ahead of the Clear the Shelters event.
Her and her 10-year-old pups -- Doberman, Rami, and German Shepherd-Rottweiler mix, Brody -- hit Del Mar's Dog Beach during their trip.
Northum was a reporter when she met Brody. She was covering a tornado in southeast Missouri that left Brody homeless.
"He followed me around the entire time," Northum said, so she adopted him.
Every year, millions of companion animals end up in shelters across the country. And while shelter adoption rates have been steadily rising since 2011, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, approximately 1.5 million animals — 860,000 cats and about 670,000 dogs — are still euthanized each year due to overcrowding.
The number of euthanized animals could be reduced dramatically if more people adopted pets instead of buying them.
NBC and Telemundo began partnering with local shelters in 2015, and since the launch, have helped 256,688 pets find forever homes. Last year, more than 1,200 shelters participated nationwide.