Freckles, a 3-year-old Dalmatian, is not at all anxious to make her debut before bright lights and cameras.

With tail tucked snugly between shaking legs, her barrel-like body is lifted onto the "set," a carpet-covered desk in the office of the Fairfax County Animal Shelter.

After much coaxing by the film crew and shelter staff that make up the "studio" audience, however, Freckles grins squarely into the camera and licks her chops.

"That's it. Great," said producer Vicki Leon, jumping up and down while viewing the dog's mug on her small monitor screen. "Now, cut."

Then, as quickly as she appeared, Freckles is wisked away and her moment of stardom has passed.

What remains, however, is Freckles' personality captured on videotape, to be edited and offered in documentary form on the weekly program called "Adopt-a-Pet." The series is aired at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays on the Fairfax County Government Channel 16 of Media General Cable.

The purpose of showing the parade of animals on film is to encourage "adoption" of those that end up at the shelter. The 15-minute-long segment starts and finishes with an explanation that almost half of the 12,000 pets that come through the facility are euthanized because they are not claimed.

Now in the sixth week of taping, the backers of the adoption program hope they can place more homeless pets.

"I try to give some joy, some feeling of, 'Gee, these are pets that can be loved,' " said Leon, who said she chooses this approach instead of the sympathy angle.

In the introduction, grandparent-types cuddle a kitten and a young professional jogs with his new-found canine friend. At the closing, an all-American looking family of four visits the shelter and takes home an irresistably cute mutt.

Those are the success stories.

Sandwiched in between is a weekly update on a dozen or so pets that need homes, including cameo appearances by a female rabbit named "Chuck" and a long-haired Abyssinian guinea pig called "Virginia" that resembles a moving mop. What isn't mentioned is that time is short -- five days for stray dogs and three for cats that aren't claimed -- before they are "put down," as one worker kindly said it.

The show goes on. As a chorus of barking curs persists in the background, shelter employe Eugene (Hollywood Hands) Huggins does his best to make the featured animals look sharp on screen.

Huggins brings in Misty, a fuzzy 11-week-old mixed-breed Malamut that insists on eating his leash, a warning of puppy qualities to come. Then comes a less hopeful case: Tillie, a 7-year-old mild-mannered brown dog, who cooperates for the filming but falls short on charm.


Enter twin fox terriers, Buddy and Jimmy, that are frisky off camera then freeze under the lights.

A family of kittens follows. One smoke gray, one jet black and one tiger-striped. "Cats are the hardest to photograph because there's no way to get their attention," Leon said.

Finally, Huggins offers a small white dove that is pleased to be pictured as long as its smooth breast is rubbed.

While the Fairfax County Adopt-a-Pet program has been well received so far, producers don't know how successful they will be in attracting owners via television. The program is available to 85,000 households through the cable channel, and at least one viewer was spurred to adopt while another found his missing dog by seeing it featured on the show, said Gail Condrick Eskew, programming manager for the county's Cable Communications Division.

But getting homes for pets is only half the purpose of the program, said Carol Taylor, humane education specialist for the county. "It's a dual purpose," she said. "We're trying to get the animals out, but we also want people to know we're a shelter, not a pound. This is a clean place and we have beautiful animals that come in here."

A tour of the facility revealed Freckles, Tillie and friends impatiently waiting in tidy wire cages. Many of the runs were empty, but shelter operators warned that spring will bring a deluge of new puppies and kittens.

Meanwhile, four animals were adopted at the front desk during the filming of the show. Neil and Fatma Maxfield of Loudoun County picked out a copper-colored cat and arranged to have it spayed or neutered, a requirement of the Fairfax animal adoption agreement. The new owners expressed disappointment that their decision keeps the cat from going on television.

"You mean she won't have a chance to be a star?" Maxfield said with a laugh.

For information on adoption of animals, call the Fairfax Animal Shelter at 830-1100.