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Letting someone else pick your dog is better than you think

I have done so twice, and both times I hit the proverbial jackpot.

Would you let someone else choose a dog for you? I have done so twice, and both times I hit the jackpot.

The first was when my family purchased a tricolor cavalier puppy from a breeder overseas. She emailed us photos and then shipped Darcy to us. We loved her. Her only flaw was succumbing too early to the heart disease that stalks her breed.

The second time was last year. When our black-and-tan cavalier Twyla died last November, I wasn't sure I was ready for another cavalier just yet. The two shelter dogs I inquired about through Petfinder didn't pan out. Fostering for my friend Maryanne Dell, who does rescue through her Shamrock Foundation, seemed like a good compromise.

I asked for a dog that was 4 to 6 years old, so our 5-year-old cavalier, Harper, could have a playmate. As far as size, I was interested in going a little bigger than a cavalier, say, up to 30 pounds. Our rule is that we have to be able to carry the dog up and down the stairs in the event that it becomes sick or is debilitated in old age.

I preferred a spaniel type, but I didn't want a dog with a really heavy coat. And in a perfect world, the dog wouldn't be much of a barker, since we live in a condo and stay frequently in hotels with our dogs.

What she brought us was a six-pound ball of short black fur with a long, narrow bare patch on her back, a pointy gray muzzle and a howl that suggested she was part banshee. Labeled a Pomeranian-Chihuahua mix, she had been pulled from the shelter in Riverside, Calif., and was estimated to be 12 or 13 years old. She was a doll, though, and I told Maryanne I would be happy to foster her for as long as necessary.

Gemma, as I named her, arrived on Jan. 23. By Feb. 8, she was sleeping on the bed. Her fur started growing back, and we soon discovered that she had a beautiful long black coat.

My friends, I suspect, were taking bets on how long it would be before we adopted her. We made it official on March 19.

What are the advantages of letting someone else choose your dog? It can be a good idea if you are purchasing from a breeder or adopting from a shelter.

* A breeder has been watching her puppies for a minimum of eight weeks. If you accurately describe your personality and lifestyle, she is going to be able to tell you which puppy is upbeat and active and will make a great jogging buddy, and which one is easygoing enough to enjoy being a couch potato with you.

* Shelter employees, rescue volunteers and foster owners have been observing their charges for weeks as well. Tell them what you want in a dog, and they can often steer you to the right one.

* And sometimes, what you think you want and what turns out to be perfect for you are two very different things.

I've told Maryanne that she can pick a dog out for me any time.