Doesn't anybody want Deke?

The 50-pound retriever mix bounded around his cage and skidded on his blanket, a happy blond rover with a dark muzzle.

In a place where many animals get only one chance to find a home, Deke needed a third. His first family brought him there when he was only a pup because they were moving. His second returned him after only a few months because he seemed overprotective.

Deke, who turned a year old recently, beckoned to visitors at the Frederick Animal Control Center. He gave his best grin for a photographer who put his name on a Web site, hoping to find somebody who'd love him, warts and all.

Nearly 60 dogs are in the center, along with 120 cats, a few hamsters, a peacock, a tank full of fish and a mouse named Flower.

The center is the only animal shelter and rescue operation in the county. Eighty volunteers, six animal control officers and about 15 paid staff workers rescue livestock left to starve in barnyards, pluck litters of kittens from storm drains, retrieve pets from roadways and, when people are responsible, pursue them. They use the Internet, cable TV, a booth at the Frederick Towne Mall, the Petsmart store on Route 355 and a network of foster groups to find homes for their charges. And they take it hard when an animal is euthanized because its suffering, age or behavior prevents it from finding a home.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the center handled nearly 2,000 adoptions, returned more than 800 animals to their owners and found foster homes and rescue groups for 400. Its staff had to euthanize 2,900 animals, but nearly two-thirds of them were sick, injured or wild or were brought in by their owners, who chose the center instead of a veterinarian to put their pets to sleep. The staff averages six to eight animal-cruelty arrests a year, and each year goes on hundreds of animal-welfare calls -- from animals left without water to serious abuse cases.

"We accept any animal someone relinquishes, and we try every recourse so we don't have to euthanize them," said center director Harold Domer.

Domer recently led a tour of the single-story cinderblock facility in downtown Frederick that echoed with the sound of animals and delighted young visitors. On the door of each dog's cage hung a small bucket of treats. When a handler dipped in a hand, the dog sat, poised to charm a potential owner.

"I got my dogs here 131/2 years ago and got a hamster here also," said Sheila Jones of Adamstown as her children, Allison, 4, and Kevin, 10, dragged her through the puppy room.

The dogs -- Maggie, a terrier mix, and Smoky, a shepherd blend -- are "seniors now," she said sadly, so they might be making another adoption soon. "Maggie got an award for tricks," said Kevin as he pulled his mother away.

Mindy Hanlon, a professional groomer who volunteers at the center, just finished filming "Making Friends," a cable show that profiles an adoptable animal from the center each week. Then she got started on a shaggy terrier's snarled topknot. "It'll have to go," she said, trying to get a brush through it.

A few moments later, the small, tan dog trotted to his cage, damp from his bath, a cropped patch atop his head. Hanlon, 43, has volunteered at the center for 12 years. Hers is one of the many foster homes where the center places scores more dogs, cats, rabbits and livestock to ease crowding.

In a room next door to the cacophony, animal control officers investigate abuse cases. They go out to trap potentially dangerous animals and take creatures found by police after arrests or -- in the case of the tank of fish -- evictions. On a bulletin board, a photograph of a gray horse, ribs jutting, is marked "before." Beneath, a snapshot of the same horse, now white and sleek, a habited rider aboard, reads "after."

Animal control officer Kenneth Ripeon recalled snaring an alligator in a country ditch. "Four feet long, and a lot of teeth in him," he said. The reptile went to a small zoo in Thurmont.

In her office near the front door, Diana Clement, the center's volunteer program coordinator, showed a sheet where people who relinquish their pets write the reasons: moving, chewed the couch, kids won't help in the care. Clement pointed to a survey that says most people give up dogs because of their barking, followed by chewing, biting, escaping and digging.

"We don't need better dogs," she said. "We need people who understand them."

Potential owners are interviewed, and sometimes staff members visit their homes. People able to give an animal several hours of companionship a day are most likely to win approval. While the staff considers many factors, applicants who are rejected tend to be people who would tie an animal outside permanently or let it roam free, parents who expect that their children will do all the work or those who don't want the animal as a pet at all, such as the man who asked about a rabbit's weight. "He was going to eat him," Clement grimaced.

Kennel supervisor Michele Deibler recalled an applicant who said his last dog had died, mentioning the name of its veterinarian. Behind the scenes, the staff called the vet, who said the dog had been tied in a back yard, where flies can infest even a small wound. The dog was consumed by maggots.

Center handlers put each dog through a temperament test, designed to uncover problems down the line. When a prospective owner asks about the animal's history and personality, "we tell everything we know," said Clement, even if "that means sometimes the animal doesn't get adopted."

"He likes to play fetch. . . . He would do best in a home without small children," reads the ad for Deke on Petfinder.org, a free service that has helped Frederick place hundreds of animals.

After Deke's first family gave him up, he soon found a second home, with a woman who ran a day-care service in her house. Deke trailed his new owner from room to room, sitting patiently beside her as she worked.

But one day, Deke growled at one of her young charges, who had stretched out a hand to Deke's owner. She wanted to keep him, but the center staff members thought it best not to. They have put Deke through his paces, with no problems. But Clement worried that that one growl might make Deke unadoptable.

"Hey, buddy," Domer said, as he passed Deke's cage. The big dog barked back to him, tail wagging, his happy expression begging for another chance.

Mindy Hanlon, left, a professional pet groomer and volunteer at the Frederick Animal Control Center, introduces a stray terrier mix to Michelle Gregory of Frederick and her son Noah, 6, for possible adoption as Maureen Mathias watches on her first day as a center volunteer. A stray cat hoping to be adopted from the center makes contact with a visitor.