MARTINEZ -- The puppy is "a joyful terror," describes her owner Greg Wang.

She's adjusting well to her new home after the Concord resident adopted her last month from the Martinez Animal Shelter.

"She's growing on us," he adds.

Merlot -- now called Zoey -- is a 3-month old German shepherd mix, and the 100th dog to be adopted during a Sunday afternoon program run by volunteers since fall of 2012.

She, her six other litter mates and her mom were surrendered to the shelter by the owner.

"A lot of these dogs are on the clock," says Wang.

The volunteers each have their story of rescuing a dog from such a fate.

Three years ago, a terrier mix was roaming the streets of Concord before arriving at the shelter, where he would meet his future owner, Orinda resident Marie Waterman.

"He leapt into my lap," she says, recalling the instant bond, her ensuing volunteer commitment at the shelter, and George's touted role as a Hospice therapy dog.

"I get a lot of fan mail from the (Hospice) families ... They may not know who I am, but they remember George."

The idea to offer the Sunday adoption option came after Pinole resident Virginie Madruga, a longtime volunteer, realized they were missing an opportunity to match dogs at risk of being euthanized with prospective owners who were unaware that the shelter was closed on Sundays -- and left empty-handed.


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The dozen or so volunteers know the uphill challenges they face, be it backyard breeding, the lack of spaying and neutering, and the stigmas attached to the pit bull and Chihuahua breeds that often end up in the shelter.

Madruga notes the seasonal times are when the shelter is especially overcrowded: lost dogs who try to flee the Fourth of July fireworks, the beginning of the school year and the end of the year.

"We feel we're on a treadmill," says Marty Tatti, a Walnut Creek resident who cofounded the Sunday dog adoption program with Madruga, also citing the puppies sold at flea markets that "create a constant inflow into the shelter."

"We celebrate the adoptions, but we know there are many others who need it," adds Alamo resident Allyn Lee, who adopted a pit bull puppy, "now a cherished family member, on his last day before being sent to heaven."

The volunteers have hands-on familiarity with the dogs, making notations on "walking cards," tracking behavior and temperament.

The animals have had safe hug and worst-case scenario evaluations.

Along with the staff's observations and expertise, the volunteers also assess the dogs' prey drive, how they interact with other canines and their compatibility with children and strangers.

And, they provide "gentle one-on-one counseling" with the prospective owners, Madruga says, noting the time spent clarifying their lifestyle and whether it's a match with a particular dog.

"Nine times out of 10, they're in love," she says.

Popeye, a big barrel-chested pit bull that snorts when he breathes, is described as "a teddy bear of a dog that loves to snuggle."

Vallejo resident Erica Patterson gave him a new home on the same Sunday that Merlot was adopted.

Madruga instantly posted the successful match on Facebook.

The social networking realm is where Brentwood resident Corinne Tate posts videos of the adoptable dogs engaged in play on her page, Save the Contra Costa County Shelter Dogs.

"I think (Popeye) would've been OK, maybe," Patterson says. "We didn't want to leave it at that. We wanted to bring him home."

if you go
The mobile pet adoption program is held from noon to 3 p.m. every Sunday at the Martinez Animal Shelter, 4800 Imhoff Place.