Your buddy is waiting for you

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Walk around the newsroom, and you'll probably be able to tell pretty quickly we're a roomful of dog lovers.

Sandra has a plastic statue of a boxer with a pink bow around its neck sitting on her computer tower. Cary has a photo of her adorable beagles, Delylah and Rhyley, on her workflow tray. And Leigh has a Canned Husky (really, it's a thing - go to www.cannedanimals.com) on her desk.

Often when we get submitted email photos from our local animal shelters of the pets of the week, we stand around the recipient's desk and coo and try to goad one of us into adopting the homeless pet. Usually our "I can't" answers involve "I already have too many."

My rescue dog, Jasmine, came into my life after I looked at her photo in our pet of the week page a little too long in 2009. Two weeks after I first saw that photo in our paper, I found out she was still there at the shelter waiting for a home. Waiting for me. I had always wanted a German shepherd or shepherd mix, and I knew she had to come home with me.

She's older now and has bad hips, but she has a tender personality and will come nudge me on the couch after I've had a tough day. She also sheds like she's got a backup coat year round she's trying to get rid of. There's a reason they're called German shedders, folks, so please don't drop by without calling because I'll need to haul out the vacuum first. She begs for Cheez-Its, and my husband flips her roasted peanuts, her new favorite snack. The other day I found a lone peanut that had escaped under the coffee table, along with about half a pound of her fur. It's hard to imagine my home without her, but I sure wish she knew how to run the vacuum.

My family has always had shelter dogs, and the dog I grew up with was thrown over our Sumter SPCA's fence when she was just a pup. Suzy was our companion through several moves while Dad was in the Air Force, even spending a few years in Japan with us in base housing.

I still remember the handwritten card that came home from the vet's office after she was freed from her suffering. It's in a family scrapbook. Above were letters written in Japanese, and below were these words: "Animals who are friends of our hearts rest in peace." Her ashes are still in a pet cemetery in Japan, along with those of hundreds or maybe thousands of other beloved pets.

My second current dog, Max the Labrador, came to us after my sister's mother-in-law could no longer keep him. At 11 years old, I hated the thought of him possibly going to a shelter, and so did Vicki, so after a bit of pleading to my husband, we walked him across our neighborhood from Vicki's house to ours.

Max is a bouncy, fun-loving, grass-guzzling yellow Lab who lives for any attention. I can clean his ears, and he'll be wagging his tail every second of it. He's been a yard dog for years, but he's loving coming indoors to lounge for hours every day and night.

Many of my co-workers have shelter dogs in their lives too, and we often trade stories about them.

If you need a little companionship in your life and think a dog or cat might be the perfect fit, try finding your new buddy at one of our local shelters. They're not broken beyond help or unloving or any of the other myths people come up with.

I can guarantee you'll find a buddy that will want to cozy up on your couch with you late at night (got one of those) or greet you like he's not seen you in 54 days when you get home from work (got one of those too).

If you can't adopt a dog or cat or guinea pig or other animal, our local shelters would appreciate any type of donation to help the homeless pets find someone who can bring them home.

Melanie Smith works as an editor and designer for The Sumter Item. In her spare time, she enjoys trying to tame her yard, spending time with her husband and pets and taking photographs with Sumter Digital Camera Club.