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Photographs taken July 20 2011 of Amberly McAteer and her five year old boxer, Ruby. Amberly drove two hours to the Collingwood area to pick up Ruby, who was a rescued boxer abandoned in a park. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Reader response convinced Amberly McAteer to tour Toronto Animal Services, where she met this lovely purebred German Shepherd

I never thought I’d get a rescue, let alone be ready to go fisticuffs for one.

My dog search is in high gear, and I know two things: I want an adult - puppies are cute, but too needy for a single urbanite - and I want a boxer. They're playful and smart, and my tough-girl guise is no match for those big eyes and floppy ears.

But hundreds of readers insist I go the rescue route. "There is something extra special about a dog who knows you saved its life," implored one e-mail. How could I pass that up? I needed to visit Toronto Animal Services - but to be honest, it seemed risky and undesirable at first.

I had never stepped foot in a shelter, which I pictured full of droopy-eyed, pouty puppies in tiny prison cells. I had visions of breaking them loose, Jack Bauer-style, high-tailing it out of there and taking the whole pack home.

I also assumed rescues automatically came with a long list of behavioural issues. I don't think any dog will be perfect, but one that suffers "severe dog-on-dog aggression" doesn't sound wise for a first-time dog owner.

One part of my preconceived notion was sadly accurate: the dogs in Toronto Animal Services bounce around in small kennels, desperate to get out.

But all of them - and I met a good dozen - are sweet, joyful and so eager to be my friend.

"So many people say this is heartbreaking," says Nicola Ware, an animal care and control officer at the downtown location, shouting over piercing barks of caged canines. "It's not sad, when you know the conditions these dogs came from. This is transition time," she says for the 17 dogs in the shelter. The adoption rate for the shelter is high, she says, and the reason is obvious: most dogs here are without serious baggage. They're fed well, exercised daily - but looking for love.

These pooches changed my mind about rescues - but I was still swooning over my breed of choice. I wanted to save a life and get a boxer, too.

So I tried PetFinder, a wonderful time-sucking website that lists rescues from all over Canada and the United States. My first search landed me Ruby, described as 'entertaining and easygoing'. I called and left a message.

A few days later, I applied to Boxer Rescue Ontario, a provincial network of volunteers who find "forever homes" for rescue boxers. I anxiously awaited the call, in which volunteer Tonya Guillemette would determine if I'm fit to be a dog parent. I let the phone ring three times, so I didn't seem over eager.

"Hi Theresa!" I beamed like a tween talking to her crush. "It's Tonya," she corrected. Off to a great start.

"There are no right or wrong answers," she said. Then the brigade of questions started flying: What should a crate be used for? What behaviour would you deem unacceptable in the first 48 hours? Under what circumstances would you euthanize?

Two hours later, the call ended - and I was fairly certain I didn't say anything ridiculous. I was honest about the dog I want: a smaller, mild-mannered female who likes other dogs.

A week passed, and I hadn't heard about any matches - but she did urge me to be patient.

Then the call came: Ruby is available. Another family is also interested, so Ruby will go to the home that's the best fit.

Ruby's foster mom tells me about the dog's troubled five years, bouncing around from one owner to the next, through no fault of her own. The humane society found her alone, wandering the local dog park.

"For all she's been through, she's just such a marvellous little girl," the foster mom told me. I could hear the love in this woman's voice.

I didn't want a rescue two weeks ago. Now I'm willing to fight what is likely a very nice family for my girl.

I stare at Ruby's soft, inquisitive face on my screen and immediately arrange to make the two-hour drive.

Send Amberly an e-mail here