The 6-year-old jumped into the pool, burying her head in the cool water. A 9-year-old joined her, and together they splashed the gray paving stones in their backyard oasis. On a hot Washington day, they had found relief.

The pool is for the exclusive use of dogs who live at the Washington Animal Rescue League, a private animal shelter in Northwest Washington devoted to caring for unwanted pets until a home can be found for them. In the meantime, 6-year-old Smokey and 9-year-old Bambi and their 48 kennel mates have an opportunity each day to romp in their own park at the rear of the kennel and to take a dip in the pool if they wish.

"A dog gets to be a dog here," staff dog trainer Marilyn Church said as five small and large dogs raced about. "When they discover the water, it's like nirvana. They don't want to get out of it."

Yesterday, Max, a golden retriever mix, was willing to put only his front paws in the water. Schotzi, a purebred West Highland terrier, merely glanced at it.

"Some seem to instinctively like the water and understand it is a way to cool off," Church said. "Others need some encouragement."

The 750-square-foot park, surrounded by a high Victorian iron fence, was the gift of Nina Mason Pulliam, who left money in her will for the Rescue League to use on a special project. The director of animal welfare, Lynne McReady, said the $100,000 park, which opened on May 1, was named in Pulliam's honor.

The play area fills several needs, said Sam Rosenfeld, managing director. The animals have a place to exercise, and people who are considering an adoption can watch the dog at play.

Church said that the pool is an excellent way for dogs to cool off in Washington's July heat but that a soaking with a garden hose would work as well. She said most dogs seem to know when to stop playing on a hot day, but some, such as border collies, don't quit. Dogs can cool themselves only by panting, unlike people, who can cool off by perspiring, she said.

McReady said they are looking for homes for their dogs as well as several dozen cats. An applicant for a dog needs to live within 25 miles of the shelter, located at 71 Oglethorpe St. NW, have a fenced yard and the permission of the landlord if a rental property is involved.

She said the fee for dogs or cats is $30. The pets have all their necessary shots and are spayed or neutered at the time of adoption, she said.

The Rescue League was founded 85 years ago by Washington residents concerned about the plight of carriage horses who were often worked to death. The group no longer takes care of horses, but about 650 dogs and cats were adopted from the shelter last year, McReady said.

CAPTION: Bambi, on bench, and Snooper take a look outside the fence of the new 750-square-foot play area at the Washington Animal Rescue League in Northwest.

CAPTION: Lynne McReady, director of animal welfare, gives Bambi a kiss.