Within minutes of sending out a public plea for help Friday afternoon, the computers at Norfolk Animal Care & Adoption Center began to chime.

Each ding represented an email from someone interested in taking in a dog or cat before the shelter was forced to close as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

And they didn’t stop.

“I could hear from the different offices things like, ‘Oh!’ and ‘Oh, my!’” shelter manager Michelle Dosson said, recalling how staff members and volunteers reacted as they sorted through the hundreds of responses that poured in.

The facility’s lobby was packed Saturday morning with people wanting to take pets home. By the time it closed Sunday, all of the animals were gone. Fifty had found permanent homes and five were placed in foster care.

The adopted pets included 24 dogs, 23 cats and three guinea pigs. Most were from the Norfolk facility, but some came from a shelter in Newport News.

Jeff Foster greets a miniature poodle at the Norfolk Animal Care and Adoption Center on Saturday, March 14, 2020, in Norfolk, Va. The center is offering discounted adoption fees through Sunday in advance of the public closure of all city buildings from March 16-30 due to the coronavirus threat.

Jeff Foster greets a miniature poodle at the Norfolk Animal Care and Adoption Center on Saturday, March 14, 2020, in Norfolk, Va. The center is offering discounted adoption fees through Sunday in advance of the public closure of all city buildings from March 16-30 due to the coronavirus threat. (Kaitlin McKeown/Virginia Media)

“The one word to describe it would be magical,” said Dosson, who just took over the role of bureau manager three weeks ago. “We had the community coming out in droves to help us.”

The plea for assistance was sent out less than 24 hours after Norfolk officials announced that all city facilities — including libraries, recreation centers, Nauticus and the zoo — would be closed to the public for two weeks.

The order also included the animal care center. It was set to go into effect the following Monday, giving staff just a couple days to find homes for all its pets.

When Dosson saw the enormous community response Saturday, she contacted the Peninsula Regional Animal Shelter in Newport News later that evening to see if they’d like to have their animals included in the effort. The facility sent over eight cats and seven dogs Sunday morning, all of which found homes.

Dosson said the shelter has received nearly 500 emails since issuing its plea. Another 70 people came to the center to fill out a foster application.

The names and contact information for each person who reached out will be compiled into a list that the shelter plans to use when they need foster homes in the future.

Although the facility is now closed to the public, staff will continue to pick up loose animals, Dosson said.

Those that have evidence of having an owner — like a collar or microchip — will be held on the stray list for 10 days, while those that don’t appear to have an owner will be kept on it for five. After that, the ones deemed to be adoptable will become available for foster care while the facility remains closed, and eventually for adoption once it opens up again.

Anyone with a lost animal who wants to contact the shelter staff can reach them at 757-441-5505 or nacc@norfolk.gov.

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