Everyone says man's best friend is a dog.

But in today's society, there are thousands of K-9s housed in shelters, unable to run free and give the love and affection they so desperately want to share with a family.

That's why the American Humane Association has proclaimed October as Adopt-A-Dog Month, with the hope of giving a few of these caged-up pups a second chance.

"Dogs are some of the best companions you could ever ask for," said Lindsey Croll of the Hazleton Animal Shelter. "So many of them are homeless because of the economy, poor ownership, and just plain old bad judgment. All of them deserve a second chance at a lifelong home."

If you are considering adopting a dog, now is the perfect time to start looking. Your new best friend may be only a shelter visit away.

Is a dog right for me?

Dogs are wonderful creatures, but they come with a lot of responsibility.

Unlike their feline counterparts, dogs need more attention, such as being let out to go to the bathroom, taken for walks, and trained.

"Don't adopt a dog unless you are 100 percent sure you are willing to commit your time and energy to helping a homeless dog become a lifelong family pet," said Croll. "It's very traumatic for them to be adopted out, only to be returned in a few days or weeks because they aren't working out for whatever reason.

"Make sure you want to take on the energy it requires for training a dog or don't go through with getting an animal's hopes up, only to have them come back into a shelter environment."

Julie Stevens of Julie's HUGS (Helping Us Get Safe) in Barnesville also stresses that the person must be willing to commit to the dog and provide a safe and loving environment, and take it to the vet.

"They must be willing to take the dog at least once a year for an annual checkup and shots, to have the dog heartworm tested if needed and to supply the dog with Interceptor or equivalent to prevent heartworms," she said. "They must also be willing to exercise the dog, take it for walks, (give it) access to food and water, and love it and keep the dog inside."

Stevens says when someone is looking at adopting one of the animals she cares for, she likes to sit down and discuss the person's lifestyle to see if a dog is right for them.

Some questions she provided that potential pet owners can ask themselves before deciding to adopt a dog include:

• What breed of dog do you want?

• Do you or anyone in your family have allergies?

• Are there young children in the home?

• Does your spouse want a pet?

• Does everyone want a dog?

• Do you have the time to spend with a dog?

• Do you want a puppy or adult dog?

• Are you willing to house train a dog if needed?

Time to start looking

You've thought about getting a dog, weighed all your options, and reached a decision.

Now it's time to start looking for a new member of the family. But what's the next step?

Check out local animal shelters to see if there is a dog that you want to make your own.

"There are more dogs out there in shelters that need homes, than people out there who want to give them one at the moment," said Bruce May, animal warden and manager of the Carbon County Animal Shelter in Nesquehoning, noting that many shelter dogs, even if they are mixed breeds, are amazing animals that deserve a second chance at happiness.

For a list of shelters, visit Web sites such as Adoptapet.com and Petfinder.com. These sites can be valuable tools to help show you what each shelter has; as well as narrow down what type of dog you may be interested in adopting.

Once you decide on which shelters to visit, call or e-mail them to set up an appointment. This will make it easier for both the potential adopter and for the shelter workers because it allows the two parties to prepare.

The adoption process

No matter what shelter you use, you must follow some steps to adopt, including completing an application and being interviewed to determine if you are a good match for the dog.

Croll said she looks for specific traits in potential adopters.

"You need to be ready to take the time out of your life to adjust the dog to a new home and surroundings," she said. "Some of our dogs come in as strays that were family pets and are already trained or are partially trained. You must be willing to take the time to train them or at least try to work with them to ensure a happy, healthy environment for everyone. A dog must get regular exercise, whether it be a walk, a jog, a hike, a game of fetch, or some of all of them. Financially, you must be ready to provide for the animal medically and feed them properly.

"A dog is to be a part of a family, not something you lose interest in or just leave out on a chain."

Stevens added that adopters should also have a list of references that she could contact, and be ready to set up a home check from her organization to make sure the dog would be taken care of.

At the Carbon County K-9 Shelter, May said before the adoption process can begin, they try to match the family with a dog.

He explained that some animals are not compatible with children for various reasons. He also reminds people that a dog ages seven times quicker than a child.

After filling out an application, the shelter screens the individual to determine if they are eligible to adopt a dog. (Note: If you rent a home, check with your landlord and get permission before attempting to bring an animal into the home.)

If everything is approved, then the adoption can be completed. There is usually an adoption fee, which varies from shelter to shelter.

At some organizations, such as Julie's HUGS, there are trial periods, in which the family can take the dog for up to two weeks to see if this is the match for them.

"If they are approved, I see if they want a trial basis for the dog," Stevens said. "That way if they decide it's too much for them or not the right dog during the one- to two-weeks trial, they can return the dog and I will refund the adoption fee or exchange dogs if I have something else they might like."

Can't adopt a dog but want to help?

If you decided that now isn't the best time to adopt a dog, but would like to help dog shelters, there are things you can do.

Animal shelters are always looking for donations, whether monetary or supplies, because they are not always eligible for outside funding.

To find out what they need, call the shelter you wish to donate to and ask if it has a wish list of donations that help provide care for the animals at the facility. Donations can be used to cover the costs of vaccinations, spay or neutering, grooming, medical attention, and more.