FORT WORTH -- Stephen and Tiffany Lightfoot were more curious than anything else when they walked into a pet adoption center on its first day.
"We'd been talking about getting a dog for some time, but my kids didn't know I was getting one that day," Stephen Lightfoot said. "Frankly, I didn't either."
But when he played with a 2-year-old collie mix at the city's new adoption center, in a PetSmart store in far north Fort Worth, he couldn't resist.
"She just felt like the right temperament for my family," he said. "She's been extremely sweet."
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The opening of the city's second pet adoption center last month has led to a surge in pet adoptions, city officials said.
In the first two weeks of December, the city adopted out 577 pets, a 172 percent increase over the 212 for the same period a year ago.
Code Compliance Director Brandon Bennett said the second facility brings adoptable pets to residents in the Alliance corridor who live far from the main animal shelter. The store is in the booming Alliance Town Center, just east of Interstate 35W at the Heritage Trace Parkway exit.
"Fort Worth was pretty typical of other cities where we had our shelter in an industrialized zone," Bennett said. "This puts us in another location where there are people looking to adopt pets. Going forward, we'll be able to get animals out of the shelter environment quicker before they get ill. It also enables us to work with small shelters and rescue groups to get their animals adopted."
The demand for pets since the Alliance adoption center opened has been high enough that the city has been reaching out to other shelters to fill space in the two PetSmart stores.
"Whenever we have cold, wet weather, our stray populations tends to hunker down and we don't see as many animals coming into the shelter so we're looking to Arlington, the Humane Society and other rescue groups to fill those spaces," Bennett said.
Tammy Hawley, director of the Humane Society of North Texas, said 25 or so animals have been sent from the Saxe-Forte Adoption Center on Lancaster Avenue to the city adoption center.
"But we still have plenty more," she said.
Additional pets are sent to one of the Humane Society's satellite adoption centers in Keller, giving residents in the area another option.
The Humane Society saw a 12.8 percent increase in overall adoptions after it opened the Welcome Home Adoption Center in June, shelter manager Kirk Kinder said.
"Last year from June 28 to Dec. 28 we did 2,750 adoptions," he said. "From the same period in 2011 we did 3,102 animals. The main shelter numbers were up a little bit, as were the off-site numbers."
Hawley said that 650 animals have been adopted from the Keller location.
"We opened our Keller location in June and they opened [PetSmart] in November and our adoptions didn't decrease," she said.
Likewise, the Humane Society had been at 6708 S. Hulen St. for years when the city of Fort Worth started adoptions at the PetSmart at 4800 SW Loop 820, again with no adverse effect, Hawley said.
Kinder said the Humane Society also bought the old Benbrook Animal Hospital on U.S. 377 and hopes to open an adoption center there in early spring.
To build on the two PetSmart locations, Fort Worth must now find a way to nurse sick pets back to health so they can be adopted. So one of the next goals is a foster pet adoption program and raising funds for a medical isolation ward.
The city hopes to raise about $775,000 from national sources for the isolation ward and then raise about $250,000 more in donations to operate the facility.
The Fort Worth partnership with PetSmart has received national acclaim since the southwest PetSmart adoption center opened in April 2010. That center doubled the city's adoption rate and had placed 2,866 animals as of Dec. 22.
"We're lacking a medical isolation ward or a medical foster program that will nurse animals back to health," Bennett said. "That's one of our priorities. Nationally, we'll be looking for big donors to help fund an isolation ward. Right now, we can't send a sick dog to an animal rescue group because other dogs will also become ill."
The partnership between the city and PetSmart was dreamed up by businessman Bill Boecker, who conducted market studies and had architectural blueprints for the center drawn up.
"The first enhanced adoption center in Fort Worth was truly the first of its kind," said Susana Della Maddalena, vice president and executive director of PetSmart Charities. "Based on its success, it has now become the model for new PetSmart Charities enhanced adoption centers nationwide."
Facilities similar to ones in Fort Worth have opened in Arizona, Delaware, Wisconsin, Colorado, Kentucky, Idaho and New Jersey.
Staff writer Terry Evans contributed to this report.
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698