JAKE'S 8-YEAR-OLD tail is wagging like a metronome behind his Santa-red "Adopt Me" jacket while his dark Welsh Corgi eyes gaze into visitors' faces, looking for love despite past affairs that broke his heart.
Jake loves the women who love him back at the new Fishtown storefront branch of the no-kill Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
He is more nervous around men, perhaps a clue to his mysterious past, but he's a sucker for treats as the beginning of a beautiful friendship with anyone.
Melissa Culp, a native Fishtowner and a PSPCA volunteer, often walks Jake in his "Adopt Me" jacket around the neighborhood, where he drinks from the outdoor dog bowls at Heffe ("Our tacos don't suck.") and gobbles treats from local business owners.
"I live two blocks from here," Culp said. "We're a small, friendly neighborhood. I always get a 'Hello, how you doing?' from the people Jake and I meet.' "
The Fishtown PSPCA mini-shelter looks more like an animal lover's family room than an adoption center. It has polished wood floors, a cool sculpture made from mattress springs and junk suspended from the ceiling, and a glass-enclosed cat condo colony where visitors can sit surrounded by friendly felines sauntering by for a cuddle and a purr.
"If people who work around here get so much as a five minute break, they're in the cat room," said staffer Samantha Holz. "It's very Zen in there."
Located on foodie-fervent Frankford Avenue near Oxford Street, Fishtown's PSPCA is an intimate residence for adoptable cats and kittens as well as dogs that rotate in, three at a time, from the main shelter on Erie Avenue.
Rachael Small, the site supervisor, said some dogs do much better in Fishtown's homelike atmosphere than they do in a big animal shelter "where it's noisy and they're in cages, face to face with another animal they might not always like looking at all day long."
She said that was true for Bernie, an 8-year-old Chihuahua who spent his days at the main shelter cowering in the corner of his cage, nervous and snappy.
"They carried him out in a big blanket," Small said, laughing, and handed him to me, saying, 'Take him. He's bad. He bites.' "
Housed behind a baby fence at the front of the Fishtown branch and loved like a pet - or, some would say, a human toddler - the cuddle-centric Bernie has become a mellow sweetheart, creatively finding ways to nose open the gate and make a beeline for the nearest set of human arms.
Small held the charming Chihuahua and said, "When people come to see him, 'I find myself thinking, 'I don't know if you're good enough for my Bernie.' "
Small was kidding about thinking like a mom meeting her son's prospective bride for the first time, but not about the loving care at Fishtown's "little shelter that could" that has placed 194 cats and dogs since its soft opening a few months ago.
Today from noon to 4 p.m., for a $5 donation, kids and their pets can take photos with Santa.
"One of the neighborhood families was so excited," Small said, "because they couldn't find anywhere else where they could take a photo of Santa and the whole family, including their guinea pig."