By Zane Clark, The (Vineland) Daily Journal

VINELAND - Dating these days has gone to the dogs - at least it did one night last week at the Cumberland County SPCA's first-ever Pet Speed Dating event.

The shelter designed the event to give the pet-loving public a simple way to get up close and personal with many of the dogs and cats available for adoption.

Much like speed dating events for humans, visitors spent the evening getting to know various animals during five-minute intervals while cycling through different stations set up throughout the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter.

During those short sessions, potential owners had the chance to connect with their possible future pets without the bars of a kennel between them.

Employees and volunteers also were on hand at each station to introduce the animals and answer any questions. Adoption applications could be submitted before and during the event.

CCSPCA Executive Director Bev Greco heard about other shelters holding similar events and said the only extra effort and money required to hold one here was keeping around a few employees and volunteers past closing time.

"It's a fun and easy way to get some animals adopted," she said. "It's a little more user-friendly than walking into the kennels."

The event drew great interest and delivered four adoptions, with three dogs and one cat finding homes, Greco said.

When each "date" was over, a bell rang to signify it was time for all participants to move to the next suitor.

At one station, prospective pet owners Lauren Avellino and Bob Brooks of Absecon were on the floor with five different pit bull mix puppies crawling over them.

With names like Wilbur, Fern and Charlotte, all taken from the chapters of "Charlotte's Web," the 8-week-old puppies weren't shy about playing with their visitors.

Avellino, a big supporter of shelter adoptions, said the event gave people the unique chance to preview what it might be like to rescue one of the animals.

"You have a different environment where it's quiet and personal and you can really see how the dog reacts," Avellino said.

Down the hall, veterinary technician Laura Buonpastory was in charge of a station featuring Flower, a 2-year-old pit bull mix. She said the date night had the added benefit of familiarizing the public with different types of animals in a calm, quiet environment.

"I think it's fabulous," Buonpastory said. "It's a really good way to introduce people to breeds they're not comfortable with."

Guests Kevin Tupper and his son C.J. of Bridgeton met with several animals throughout the night. Powderpuff, a 10-year-old Pomeranian, was more than happy to sit in C.J.'s lap.

Kevin Tupper said directly meeting so many animals at the event was much better than seeing them in kennels, and both he and his son hope to become volunteers at the shelter.

"He's an animal kid," Tupper said of his son. "It's something we want to do."

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