An unemployed south Minneapolis legal assistant is the proud new owner of Guess, the fluffy ball of black fur that nearly took a deadly air-mail ride to Georgia.

Terri Ford's name was picked first from among about 50 people gathered Friday at the Minneapolis Animal Care and Control shelter, hoping for a chance to adopt the dog. After winning, she declared the dog "adorable," but planned to change his name to something "odd."

"Maybe Cletus," she said. Standing outside the shelter just before the drawing was held, Ford said she didn't think she had much of a chance but showed up anyway because she fell in love with Guess' picture in the news media.

"I'm the little kid who hauled dogs by their nails scratching on the pavement home, saying, 'Mother, he followed me, what could I do?'" Ford said.

The 5-month-old Schnauzer-poodle had been in the shelter since late January, when workers at the Loring Station post office downtown intercepted the dog as it panted away in a tightly sealed box.

Stacey Champion, 39, who admitted putting Guess in the mail as a gift for her 11-year-old son in Atlanta, lost ownership of the puppy and faces misdemeanor animal cruelty charges.

Most people in line at the shelter Friday expressed an interest in adopting Guess themselves, but one entrant, Debi Douglas, had said she would fly the dog to Atlanta and have it delivered to Champion's son.

"I'm an advocate for an innocent child getting his birthday gift," Douglas said.

She nearly got the dog. Her name was the second one drawn at random out of a box, after Ford's. Shelter officials drew 11 names in all, just in case the first names picked were of people who proved to be a bad match for the dog. It turned out that Ford, picked first, was deemed a good fit.

There was temporary confusion when the 10th name drawn was also "Terry Ford." Shelter official Jeanette Wiedemeier Bower momentarily halted the drawing, and some began to wonder if it was a case of ballot tampering. It turned out that another Terry Ford was in the audience, and he thought he had won. Instead, he and daughter Maura Hall-Ford were the 10th names drawn.

They lost a dog to old age just six weeks ago and had hoped Guess would be the replacement.

"That's OK," said Ford as he and Maura headed for the exit.

There was plenty of heartbreak for others. Six-year-old Savanna Jo and her grandfather Mark Mortek had the fourth ballot chosen, and as they waited for shelter officials to make their decision, Savanna Jo bonded with the dog, cuddling him for the news cameras and walking him around the shelter's conference room by his leash.

"If we get the dog, maybe I'm going to sleep over at my poppa's house tonight," she said just before the drawing, giggling at the prospect of a puppy sleeping at her feet.

When Ford was named the winner, a shelter official took Guess away, and a crestfallen Savanna Jo walked out with her grandfather.

As the puppy-in-the-mail story captured the hearts of many, the shelter "wants to remind pet lovers that [it has] many other dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets and others available for adoption," City Hall officials said in announcing adoption details for Guess. Five out of the six dogs other than Guess that were available for adoption on Friday went home with someone, according to a city spokesman.

The city typically sees 3,500 pets arrive at the shelter every year.

Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747 Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482