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It wasn’t in a manger, but Bailey, a 3-year-old female black Labrador retriever who was turned away by her owner, gave birth in a shelter on Christmas Eve — and now 12 of Fairfax County’s newest residents are seeking loving homes.

“Bailey’s owner brought her to an animal shelter in Hughesville, Md., on Dec. 12 and said ‘I don’t want her anymore, she is pregnant,’” said Stephen Push, public relations director for the Annandale-based Lab Rescue section of the Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac. “Bailey had her puppies in the animal shelter and then they called us to find them all homes.”

According to The Humane Society of the United States, 4 million cats and dogs — about one every eight seconds — are put down in U.S. shelters each year. Often these animals are the offspring of cherished family pets. Six-to-eight million pets end up in shelters each year — both surrenders and strays — and half of those generally are never adopted. In addition, 25 percent of pets in shelters are purebreds and most end up homeless through no fault of their own — "moving" and "landlord issues" are frequently listed as the top reasons people give for relinquishing their pets, according to the society.

“We at Lab Rescue generally try to rescue purebred labs,” said Push. “The shelter called us because they said the dogs all appeared to be full labs, but we wouldn’t have turned them away even if they hadn’t been. We have been known to rescue some lab mixes. Strays tend not to come with verifiable papers.”

Push said Bailey and her brood took the number of labs his organization rescued in 2012 up over the 1,000 mark. “With the 11 puppies included, it took us to 1,003 for the year,” he said.

According to Push, the numbers have been steadily increasing over the last six years.

“In 2011, we rescued 902,” he said. “The economy seems to have a lot to do with it, and this year we had a few Hurricane Sandy-related rescues thrown in there as well.”

Bailey and her puppies are currently residing in Fairfax at the foster home of Yvonne Young, 59, until they are old enough to be adopted next month.

Young has volunteered with Lab Rescue of the LRCP for the last four years, taking in pregnant labs and new families like Bailey’s. Young says her seven grandchildren are thrilled to watch the foster puppies as their eyes begin to open for the very first time, fortunately in a safe environment.

“Bailey is the sweetest thing,” Young said. “I tend to identify with the mother dogs, but I also get my puppy fix with all the puppies.”

Young said Bailey and her litter will all be available for adoption in about six weeks, right around Valentine’s Day.

“In the meantime, we get to watch them take their first steps and the grandkids get to name them so they can be registered with the rescue group,” she said.

According to Young, anyone can apply to adopt Bailey or any of her Christmas puppies, but there is a stringent screening process that ensures they will not return through the rescue process.

“They will check your references and make sure you do not leave the puppies alone for more than four hours at a time,” she said. “They may even perform some home visits to check up on them. The criteria is pretty tight but it is a wonderful thing to see them going to good homes.”

For more information about adopting Bailey, her puppies, or any of the many labs available through Lab Rescue of the LRCP, contact the organization at 301-299-6756, or go to www.lab-rescue.org.

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com