HAYDEN - Marty Becker didn't hesitate to unlatch the gate leading to the growling, barking dog.
Speaking softly to the Australian shepherd/blue heeler mix, he crouched slowly, reached out and handed Paco a treat.
The 65-pound dog gobbled it up, then quietly eyed Becker.
"You did good," the veterinarian said with a pat on its head.
Becker, known as "America's Veterinarian," recently penned his 20th book, "Your Dog: The Owner's Manual." More than eight million of his books have sold, and he's a three-time member of the New York Times best-seller list.
The Bonners Ferry resident, joined by family members, visited the Kootenai Humane Society adoption center on Tuesday. The stop, one of three at North Idaho animal shelters, was billed as a "Christmas Pawty," with a goal of finding homes by Christmas for the shelter's most "adoption-challenged" pets. Staff got into the spirit by wearing elf outfits, antlers and Santa hats.
The promotion worked, with many guests checking out potential pets, two longtime resident cats being adopted, another longtime dog, a black lab mix named Langley, in line for a new home, and a $500 donation.
Becker also pampered the 54 dogs and 120 cats by delivering a treat and toy for each. He's a firm believer they deserve a home. They might have issues to overcome. Perhaps they're protective, afraid to be alone or have endless energy. Just give them a chance, be patient, and love them, is all Becker asks.
"There's nothing wrong with these animals. There's just not enough loving homes for all the animals that want a home," he said during the hourlong shelter tour. "Our goal is to help them move from the cage of the shelter to the couch of somebody's home."
Becker, who is headed to New York and will be on the TV program, "Good Morning America" on Tuesday, has four cats, four dogs, three horses and fish at home. His book, "The Healing Power of Pets: Harnessing the Amazing Ability of Pets to Make and Keep People Happy and Healthy," outlines why pets "are actually good for us."
He quickly recites a list of benefits that come with pets - lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce chances of heart attack, elevate mood and improve IQ. Dogs and cats, he said, can be inexpensive medicine.
He liked what he saw at the KHS shelter and the "obvious affection" staff had for the animals. He said they were well cared for more than just physically.
"They're all loved as individuals here and given a lot of TLC," Becker said. "It's one thing to have food, water, veterinarian care and shelter. The other thing that's most impressive is just the love, the dedication to finding animals a loving home."
Mikkel Becker, animal trainer and author, joined her father Tuesday.
She said rescue dogs can need medical care or behavioral training, but most of the ones she saw at KHS "are really nice dogs. They've just been in bad circumstances."
A young pug, she noted, was brought in Tuesday after being surrendered by its owners who had a new baby.
"A lot of times it's not so much about behavior issues as it's just circumstances," Mikkel Becker said.
For those considering dog adoption, she recommends a training class. Another key is walking, running or playing with them.
"A lot of dogs have behavior issues because they aren't given enough mental stimulation and exercise," she said. "Changing that will make a big difference."
Marty Becker said he shared one message, too, with the dogs and cats he visited on Tuesday.
It was one of hope, because animals need hope, too.
"Everyone I've talked to, I've told them that I love you, we love you, and we're going to find you a home."