A young beagle, rescued after a dramatic rush-hour chase on Shirley Highway only to face potential death at an animal shelter, has been rescued again, this time by a Fairfax County House wife.

"My heart just broke for that poor little dog", said Margaret Loveless, who adopted the stray pet.

Loveless took the 2-year-old female beagle home after passing the tough scrutiny of the Alexandria Animal Control Shelter. The beagle had been living there on borrowed time for more than a week while the shelter tried to find her owner or a replacement, who would meet the group's requirements for pet ownership.

Given to the shelter by a jogger who plucked her from the heavily traveled highway after a two-mile chase, the dog would have been put to sleep unless a new home had been found for her.

"Nobody has claimed her," said Loveless, who named the beagle "Shelley." She already has a German shepherd and a schnauzer, two strays she described as "hardship cases, too."

News accounts of the dog's rescue and confinement at the shelter prompted several telephone calls to the jogger and the shelter, all seeking reassurance about the animal's welfare. There were also complaints that the shelter's rigid adoption regulations often proved insurmountable for some would-be pet owners.

Loveless, who paid a $10 adoption fee and $35 medical bills before she took possession of the beagle, underwent a home inspection and a 25-minute interview before the shelter pronounced her a fit owner. Shelter officials will also pay her a follow-up visit later.

The beagle was luckier than many of the pets like the Alexandria shelter handles each year. About one out of four of the animals are put to death, according to the shelter's director, Gail Snider. Only 300 to 400 get adopted.

"We're ending up with more animals than we can deal with," said Mary Eleanor Bradman, chairman of the Virginia Citizens Committee Against Animal Abuse and an official of the Washington Humane Society. She defended the strict screening procedures of the Alexandria shelter, saying that "the darling little ball of fluff" purchased at pet stores often ends up abandoned or abused by owners who don't take their responsibilities seriously.

"There are worse things than being dead where an animal is concered," she said. Animal shelters, she added, are prevented by space and funding limitations from keeping the pets indefinitely or from transferring them to other shelters.

Loveless had agreed to take the beagle last week but had to wait while the animal was sent to a veterinarian to be spayed. Plans to abort a suspected pregnancy at the same time were abandoned when it was discovered the dog wasn't expecting after all.

The beagle, meanwhile, arrived at the Loveless Fairfax home and got a friendly reception from her new canine playmates. "No problems," Loveless reported. "It's all worked out beautifully."