New Canaan animal activist and business owner Cathy Kangas is particularly set on helping shelter dogs and cats find warm homes this winter. Potential pet owners whose heart strings are tugged by a shelter pet from Adopt-A-Dog in Armonk, N.Y., can bring their furry companions home free of charge with her newly launched freebie adoption drive, Home for the Holidays.

"My goal would be that we clear out the shelter and find these poor things wonderful homes," Kangas said.

Her company, Prai Beauty, has committed to fronting the fees -- $100 for cats, $200 for adult dogs and $300 for puppies -- for all adoptions through Jan. 1. If Home for the Holidays is successful, Kangas said she hopes to extend program indefinitely.

Kangas adopted all five of her dogs -- "giants," she calls them -- from the Armonk shelter: two purebred yellow Labradors; Maggie, a St. Bernard seized by police from a drug dealer; Me-Me, a Borzoi abandoned at the shelter at age 11; and a colossal Bernese Mountain Dog named Bella.

"It just beaks your heart if you go down to the shelter to see them sitting there month after month -- sometimes year after year," Kangas said of her reputation as a repeat customer.

The shelter is currently populated by 11 8-week-old puppies and about 18 adult dogs and 15 cats, Adopt-A-Dog Director Allyson Halm said.

Among these pets are Fresca, a 14-month-old pit bull mix; Suzie, an 11-year-old black Lab; and Jasmine, a 9-week-old chow shar pei.

While Kangas hopes the cost-free program will boost adoption rates, she aims to draw people who are seriously considering adding a new pet to their life -- not people who are pet shopping on a whim.

"Most of these animals have been uprooted once, twice, sometimes three times and it's our goal that that doesn't happen to them again," she said.

All Adopt-A-Dog adoptions are a two-step process, Halm said. Potential adopters can peruse the faces of the shelter in the online photo gallery and make an appointment to meet any pets that peak their interest.

"The animals come first," she said. "If you let people in the kennel constantly, the animals are constantly stressed."

Often the second visit is a home visit. If the adopters and the pet seem comfortable together in the home, the pet stays.

For dogs who need help settling into a new home, Kangas is also offering to pick up the tab for the services of her own dog trainer, Tim Cook.

"In my opinion, he's as good as Cesar Millan, just without the fame and fortune. He is literally a dog whisperer," she said.

Kangas sought Cook's services to help integrate her five estranged dogs into a friendly pack.

"Sometimes it's that these poor animals come out of what I call jail and they are so anxious when they get into their new home," she said. "The poor things have one accident or chew on something because they're nervous and they're right back to the shelter. We're trying to cut back on that. We want their next home to be their last home."

Clyde, a 6-year-old brindle-and-white dog with a sweet spot for hot dogs, is one such dog with special needs. He's what Kennel Manager Kristen Alouisa describes as a "hardcore shelter dog." In his three-year stint at the shelter, Clyde has earned a reputation for behaving aggressively with strangers.

"He's a mastiff mix. They're prone to be protective, but [Clyde] takes it to the Nth degree," Alouisa said. "But if you give him a couple of hot dogs, he warms up."

Despite numerous inquiries from potential adopters, the shelter has yet to find a suitable home for Clyde.

"We're not just going to hand him out," Alouisa explained. "We're more hesitant in placing dogs like Clyde because we would rather have him stay here than go to another home only to be displaced again."

In the last year, Adopt-A-Dog has taken in about 138 dogs, about 100 of which have since been adopted into new families.

Pets are part of an estimated 63 percent of American households, but only about 16 percent of them were adopted from shelters, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturing Association.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, of which Kangas is a board member, shelter adoption is one of the surest ways to combat puppy mills.

The HSUS estimates that animal shelters across the nation care for 6 to 8 million dogs and cats each year, of whom about half are euthanized.

Adopt-A-Dog does not euthanize any of its animals.

"Our philosophy is lifetime commitment," Halm said. "We shouldn't exist. We should be put out of business. But we'll always be here as long as people don't look at the big picture. When someone says, `I've got to get rid of my animal,' that's like garbage to me. You throw away garbage; you don't throw away a life. There's no guarantees and we understand that, life takes turns, but we try to adopt to people who will do anything in their power to keep their pet for life."

To view Adopt-A-Dog pets and set up an appointment, visit www.adopt-a-dog.org or call 914-273-1674 or 203-629-9494.