Tonka entered the lobby exactly as you would if you were named after a toy truck. He bounded to one corner and then to the other, he reared on his hind legs in search of a pat on the head, he licked the lifelike German shepherd statue in the corner.
Mabelle, on the other hand, embodied her genteel Southern name, casting doe eyes at the folks around her and assuming a proper pose when the camera turned her way.
"These two," said Anne Arundel County spokesman Matt Diehl, "are not gonna have any trouble getting adopted."
Tonka, a young retriever mix, and Mabelle, a 5- to 7-year old retriever-collie mix, are the latest in a line of rescued dogs and cats whose futures have been brightened by Anne Arundel's Pet-of-the-Week program. Since the animals began appearing on the county's Web site and on its cable access Channel 98 last spring, about 90 percent have found homes.
In the first week the featured animals appeared on www.aa county.org, their photos received 235 Web hits. Now, almost 1,000 people a week visit the pet adoption section of the site.
Thus, Pig Pen, Bogy, Porterhouse, Moose and more than 50 others have found new homes over the past 10 months. Tonka, rescued from Fort Meade, and Mabelle, rescued from Gambrills, are awaiting their calls, along with a cat named Princess who is left over from the previous week.
County Executive Janet S. Owens suggested the enhanced Pet-of-the-Week program after a visit to the animal shelter in Millersville last year. Her mixed-breed dog, Karma, came from a shelter, and she said the sight of so many animals who might never find homes broke her heart.
"I would go up to the shelter and see all those beautiful animals," Owens said. "And it was just sad."
Owens had been pushing for the county to do more with its Web site, and it occurred to her that featuring a cute pet on the front page might be an easy way to do some good.
"It was one of those obvious things that, for whatever reason, nobody was doing," she said. "It turned out to be one of those wonderful little serendipitous things."
Other counties in the Baltimore area spotlight rescued animals on their Web sites and government channels but none as prominently as Anne Arundel, where photos of Owens and the pet of the week are the two leading visual elements on the county Web page.
Tahira Thomas, the county's director of animal control, said her office had been designating a pet of the week for years, but said the effort had never gone beyond fliers and radio plugs. The county executive's enthusiasm brought a new focus to the center's promotional efforts, she said.
Animal control officers reserve the Pet-of-the-Week designation for those animals that seem least likely to be snatched up by the would-be owners who visit every weekend. Most of the featured animals have been medium to large dogs, though a handful of cats have had sessions in the spotlight as well.
"The larger ones need an extra bit of support," Thomas said. "Everyone's looking for puppies or kittens."
Though more than half of the 10,000 or more animals admitted to animal control every year are euthanized, Thomas said the odds are much better for those deemed adoptable, meaning they are neither sick nor aggressive. She said the center's outreach efforts have improved the adoption rate for such animals from about 60 percent to about 90 percent.
Thomas said that since the county executive's visit last spring, animal control staffers have been working under a different philosophy: "Let's try to really know each animal, to see what its personality is and then sell that personality."
She said her staff has spent weeks preparing some animals for adoption, grooming them and trying to nurture away any feral instincts. One black Labrador retriever named Twinkie spent three months in the shelter as workers tried to make her comfortable with strangers. A Dalmatian came in at a rotund 120 pounds but dropped 30 pounds on an aggressive walking regimen and was adopted.
Thomas said that stepped-up efforts to market adoptable animals have cost the county almost no extra money. "It's really just time, and that's what we're here for," she said.
Those who have adopted pets of the week said they were immediately sucked in by the photos on the county Web site.
Bill Bryant, a building inspector for the county, sees the Anne Arundel home page almost every day. So when his adolescent daughter developed a serious case of dog yearning, he started checking the Pet-of-the-Week photos for a possible fit.
That fit would be Jake, an 11-month-old chocolate Labrador retriever who had been dropped at animal control by a family that felt it had too many dogs. As a lab, Jake would be friendly with the kids and a faithful goose-hunting partner for their dad, so he became a Bryant last fall.
"It's been great," Bill Bryant said. "He's a pretty cool dog."
The Bryants have since steered other families to animal control, the type of positive word-of-mouth Thomas hopes for from programs such as Pet-of-the-Week.
Anyone interested in adopting a pet from the county must provide a driver's license or other proof of residence, proof of homeownership or a renter's agreement, and an adoption fee - $41 for male dogs and $56 for female dogs, $26 for male cats and $36 for female cats. For more information, call animal control at 410-222-8900 or check aacounty.org.