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"She was just sleeping, instead of getting your attention," Aricelli Meehan, 10 (pictured), tells PEOPLE of her first impression of Emerald. "I picked her up and started petting her, and told my mom, 'I want this cat.' "
The adoption process was extra-special for Ari — she was adopted, too. After living with Missy Meehan for a while through the San Diego Center for Children's foster program, the pair made it official about two years ago.
"After I adopted her, she spent about nine months showing she was ready to take care of a cat," Missy, also mom to rescue cat Ebony, shares of Ari.
At the 2016 Clear the Shelters event at a local rescue in Bonita, California, Missy and Ari noticed Emerald almost immediately; Ari believes the cat hadn't yet been adopted because people "thought she was 10 years old." It turns out her laid-back attitude was just an act — she was actually a 10-week-old kitten.
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"She's a very weird kitty, but that's what makes her unique and special," Ari says. "She's really nice — she wags her tale like a dog."
Though she and Ebony have their moments, "Ebony tolerates her better than you might imagine," Missy says. "Though sometimes it's hard to tell if they're playing or fighting!"
Raising Emerald is teaching Ari responsibility — she's in charge of keeping food and water bowls full and scooping poop — and she learns a lot from watching veterinarian Dr. Pol on Nat Geo WILD, too.
"I'm just glad we picked her," Ari says.
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Lisa Lee was at her local PetCo in Cedar Hill, Texas, making an appointment for her dog to be groomed.
"My groomer brought up Clear the Shelters, and I joked, 'That's the last thing I need!' But she convinced me to check it out. At that moment I knew, 'Here we go.' " Arriving at the Tri City Animal Shelter and Adoption Center, Lee met Max, who'd been hit by a car and had to have one of his legs amputated.
Already mom to a three-legged dog, "I knew what I was getting into," Lee, a retired teacher, shares. Following his surgery, she nursed him back to health with lots of TLC.
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"He's one of the more loyal dogs I've ever had, and I wonder if that's because of his circumstances," Lee says. "He's very keen, very aware."
The 4-year-old mixed breed loves running around with Lee's four other rescue dogs, and visiting schools to teach children about shelter pets. With five dogs at home, Lee isn't looking to add to her brood, but will be volunteering at the Tri City Animal Shelter during this year's event on Saturday, Aug. 19. "I'm going to have to tell myself no," she jokes of temptation.
With Max, however, "it was just fate," she tells PEOPLE. "I could've easily said no and gone about my business, but something was telling me, 'Go ahead and look.' "
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DOUBLE TROUBLE: THEN
Stuck in a storm without her house keys, Jessica Allen asked her daughter Jade (pictured) what she wanted to do until they could get back into their home. "She said she wanted to go pet some kitties," Allen tells PEOPLE. So the two drove over to New Beginnings of Bourbonnais, Illinois, where 6-year-old Jade — who has a sensory processing disorder — was able to meet some cute cats.
The facility has six rooms, and in the sixth room — the medical room, where cats who have health issues and are deemed unadoptable live — Jade found "a lump with a blanket over it," Allen recalls. That "lump" was Double Trouble, a cat who'd been at the shelter for five years struggling with FIV, depression and tooth loss.
"Jade sat down and started petting him, talking to him," Allen says. "She eventually got up to head to the door and he followed her. The shelter staff was amazed — he generally didn't let anyone pet him."
Jade took a seat, and Double Trouble sat in her lap. And that's when Allen knew she'd be taking the special needs kitty home.
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DOUBLE TROUBLE: NOW
"He's just the best, sweetest cat," Allen says. Though he has myriad health issues and requires soft food and medication, he's been eating and drinking regularly since his first week home with the Allens (skills he struggled with at New Beginnings).
"I was sitting on the couch one night after four or five nights, and he jumped in my lap and started purring," Allen says. "He was just so happy." Though her house is "chaos," she jokes — the family has four children under the age of 10 and a host of rescue pets — Double Trouble, 6, is loyal to Jade and puts her to bed every night.
"I was very nervous about bringing him home," Allen admits. "But out of all our animals, I think he's the best one. He just needed some love."
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Last July, Frank Pagila had to put his beloved black Lab Kojak down following a long illness. He wasn't even thinking about another dog, when a friend shared Roxie's plight on Facebook. "She had these super-sad looking eyes on her, and she was the last dog left at the City of Irving [Texas] animal shelter — nobody adopted her on Clear the Shelters. She was the one who was left behind," Paglia tells PEOPLE. "I was like, I have to have her."
Paglia picked Roxie up that day, and though she had heartworms and was weak, "she was a perfect dog," he shares. Shelter staff believed she'd had an owner who'd taken ill and passed the pup along to a family member who was unable to take care of her and ultimately surrendered her to the rescue.
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The 6- or 7-year-old has "honestly has been one of the sweetest, best dogs I've ever had," Paglia says. "She hasn't had any accidents in the house, she learns really quick, she loves people, she's very sweet."
The German shepherd, who's "best buddies" with Paglia's 9-year-old son, Nick (pictured), "has changed so much in a good way," the doting dad adds (he's even started a Twitter handle, @dfwroxie, for the pooch's pals). "I never thought about shelters — my other dogs I'd bought off people in the newspaper. So if anyone is scared of getting a shelter dog, Roxie is a perfect example of what they bring to the table. She just needed someone to love her."
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"Max is such a unique little guy," owner Tara Guido (pictured), who adopted the now 1-year-old from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, Virginia, tells PEOPLE. "From the moment I met him I knew he was special. He is so affectionate and sweet."
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"He's very playful and loves to explore every nook & cranny of the house," Guido shares. " I could tell how happy he was by the way he quickly started wandering around and cozying up to everything in sight, He was just noticeably instantly at home — he knew he'd found his forever."