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Pretty pooches wait for caring hearts at shelter

It's a sweltering Florida day. Mary adjusts the climate-control in her SUV and turns the volume down as an oldie-goldie fades to a public service announcement promoting animal shelter pet adoptions. Mary has finished her grocery shopping and is en route to pick up her daughter, Tricia, at school. Traffic is backed up due to an accident ahead and Mary stares out of the window, daydreaming to escape the monotony.

Later, after dropping her groceries at home, she plans to take Tricia to an uptown pet store to pick up a pedigreed pooch. Suddenly, Mary notices a small dog jogging jauntily by her in the grass beside the highway. He is young _ a mixed breed with adorable dachshund traits. The dog ambles by Mary's vehicle, managing a brave expression contrasted by a protruding rib cage and a short coat matted with dry mud. The little dog is panting rapidly _ his tongue, the color of fresh bubble-gum, hangs thirstily from his little face. Occasionally the little dog glances toward the noisy, snarled traffic with eyes that seem barely able to mask his fear and anxiety.

Suddenly, the little dog darts into the traffic, intent on making it to the other side _ but he is nearly crushed under the wheels of a cement truck.

Mary wonders aloud how a helpless animal could be left to fend for himself miles from any neighborhood. The little dog resumes his trek and Mary recalls how her husband pleaded with her to consider adopting a pet from the animal control shelter at a cost of $55. She had vetoed the idea, to spend $800 they can't afford easily on a pedigreed bowwow.

Mary abruptly pulls to the shoulder of the road and parks. She removes a package of franks from a grocery bag, exits the car, and coaxes the disheveled little animal. The collarless dog cautiously responds and proceeds to devour several hot dogs complemented by bottled spring water that Mary pours into her coffee cup.

Afterward, Mary puts the little dog in the SUV and takes him to meet Tricia, who adores him right off and names him "Mr. Boggles." The three eventually arrive home, where John, Mary's husband, promptly goes out to his shop and builds Mr. Boggles a fine comfortable doghouse. Mr. Boggles is safe in a loving home with people who care about him.

Traffic begins to move and Mary blinks. It was all a daydream. She thinks about Mr. Boggles and smiles. "We'll go to the animal shelter first," she declares.

The preceding fictitious anecdote has an ideal ending; however, it is not at all representative of the fate of most strays. According to the Pasco County Animal Control Web page, 10,000 dogs and cats will end up at the Pasco animal shelter this year. Many are lost pets without tags to identify them, but most are the result of unplanned litters.

Unfortunately, whether these animals are lost or dumped along the road like so much living refuse, eight out of every 10 likely will be euthanized. These alarming statistics bear a direct correlation to the negligent behavior of pet owners.

Animal Control says that 2,000 dogs are born every hour in the United States. This adds 17-million annually to an existing population of 73-million dogs. Sadly, most of the animals' suffering and deaths are preventable if pet owners would do just two things: register and spay or neuter their pets.

The county animal shelter, located at 19649 Lake Patience Road in Land O'Lakes, need not be the last stop for potential pets. The county has an affordable adoption program in place.

If you dare to visit, and Mr. Boggles pokes his nose through the stainless steel gate of his cage and mesmerizes you with cuddly eyes that beg your attention, remember that you can take him home for a mere $55 adoption and license fee.

If it is a feline that steals your heart, you are only out $25. These nominal fees include your buddy's new license tag, spay or neutering, a rabies shot and a general exam by a veterinarian.

Stop daydreaming. For information, call the Pasco animal shelter at (813) 929-1212.

_ Larry Clifton lives in Land O'Lakes. He and his wife adopted their own dog, Scooby, from the shelter.

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