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Local dog in 'super-model' pet contest

The quiet of Michelle Farris' suburban Stockbridge home was shaken the excited barks of her 8-year-old dog, Merlin. Farris said although Merlin might seem aggressive to others, he is actually responding happily to a visitor at his home.

"He is such a lovable dog," said Farris, 46. "He seems to have a very magnetic personality. Most people who meet Merlin — friends, neighbors, his dog-sitters — just fall in love with him instantly."

Farris recently entered the 75-pound Merlin into the Fuzzy Nation Super Model Pet Contest. Fuzzy Nation is a New Jersey-based company, which makes dog-themed gifts and accessories. The competition, which is being conducted on Facebook through Aug. 21, is designed to spotlight adopted dogs across the nation.

"You can vote daily for the dog of your choice, clicking on their picture," said Farris. "The winner gets $10,000 donated to the shelter from which their dog was adopted — in my case, it was the Henry County Humane Society."

The dog owner said details are somewhat sketchy, regarding the origin of Merlin. She adopted him in 2004. "We think he is an American Bulldog/Boxer mix, but we're not really sure," said Farris. "I adopted him when he was about a year-and-a-half old. That's our best estimate."

As of Wednesday morning, Farris said, Merlin was in eighth place in a field of 50 canine finalists in the contest. "He's one of two [dogs] in the state of Georgia," she said. His state challenger is a Golden Retriever from Atlanta. "We're really excited that he made the finals, and I do think that Merlin is a great representative of rescue dogs."

Farris, who also has a Wheaten Terrier rescue dog, named Sami, said she became involved in the contest as a way to spread the word about the plight of dogs without owners. "On a whim, I decided to enter the contest, because even though I have two dogs that are both rescue dogs, Merlin's adoption is what really got me into animal rescue, as a volunteer," Farris said. "When I adopted him, I started to learn about the need for rescue volunteers in Henry County. There are so many dogs that need to be adopted, whether it's from a shelter, or a rescue group."

Farris, who grew up in rural Alabama, said her passion for animal-rescue efforts began when she was a child. "My parents always allowed us to keep stray dogs that wandered onto the property, so we've always been owners of multiple dogs," she said. "It's been very rare in my lifetime that I, or any member of my family, have ever bought a dog. We typically find a dog, and it becomes a part of our family."

Farris would like to see more local residents adopting dogs from shelters. However, she said, a few hurdles must be overcome first. "People in Henry County are not spaying and neutering their pets like they should," said Farris. "Pet overpopulation is the main reason we have overcrowded shelters, and rescue groups that have waiting lists. There just simply aren't enough homes for all the dogs and cats out there. If more people in our county would spay and neuter their pets, we wouldn't have the full shelters."

She added that many people have a misconception about shelter dogs, which prevents some of those animals from finding a home.

"They think that the only dogs in shelters are the outcasts — the unadoptable dogs that nobody wants," said Farris. "Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the dogs end up in shelters because of an owner problem, not because of a dog problem — especially now, with the economy. People are losing their homes, they're losing their jobs, and they simply can't take care of their pet anymore.

"Also, they're letting their dogs have puppies, and they're dumping the puppies," Farris continued. "I think people need to go down to a shelter and see for themselves what awesome dogs and cats are out there. They'll be pretty surprised."

Elizabeth Neuschatz, executive director of the charitable arm of Petfinder.com, the Petfinder.com Foundation, said the Fuzzy Nation Super Model Pet Contest represents "a great opportunity to expose the public to the joys of adoption."

Petfinder.com is the world's largest adoption web site linking more than 14,000 shelters.

"Fuzzy Nation has always been a strong supporter of our mission, and it is great to see the response they have been getting through this contest," Neuschatz said.

Votes for the contest can be cast online, at www.facebook.com/FuzzyNation.