SEBRING - They sound the alert as a stranger approaches, romp with the kids, welcome you home, keep you company and lick your nose - they are your pet dog that's a loyal member of the family.
Some of the larger breeds and working breeds serve many roles related to security, law enforcement and hunting and tracking.
But small to medium-sized dogs have a big heart and eagerly serve as the family's morale booster.
Many consider them their four-legged children and for those who live alone, a dog serves as a companion that doesn't ask for much, but provides so much in return.
Dog groomer and Heartland Dog Club official Ann Polny said pets are helpful when one loses their spouse.
"They wouldn't have made it two weeks past the loss of their spouse if they hadn't had to keep going for a pet," she said of seniors she has known.
Research has shown that a person who is alone and is hospitalized is more likely to get better and go home if they have a pet, Polny said.
A dog helped Bianca Cruz about two years ago when she had health issues.
Cruz said her brother-in-law received a dog from a family whose children were mistreating it. Her husband immediately fell in love with the little one, but the brother-in-law didn't want to give up the animal because it was a pure bred Pomeranian.
"My mother-in-law convinced him because she heard dogs help sick people feel better," Cruz said. "We have had her 2 1/2 years and she is my best friend. She melts our hearts."
Sharon Havener said living alone puts a person in a vulnerable place and a little fear goes a long way.
"My two dogs give me confidence in my surroundings," she said. "They are there for me and I am there for them, what else could you ask for in a truly beautiful relationship. Both of our needs are met."
Hollie Johnson, of Sebring, has had a few four-legged friends over the years.
Now she has "Layla," who is part beagle, part "something else" and a rewarding part of the Johnson family.
"I refer to the dogs as my furry children," she said.
Like a small child, Layla gets into everything.
Even though she is 7, anything on the floor or within her reach gets chewed on, Johnson said. Layla has a Christmas stocking and always receives treats and a chew toy.
When Marcella Moran and her husband moved to Sebring two years ago they had two small dogs, but one them developed a spine injury and they were forced to put him down.
"'AnnieMae' the 10 1/2 year old was lost without her companion and so were my husband and myself," Moran said. "I cried daily for 30 days and said we have to go to the Humane Society and see if there is another 'Buddy' for us."
They checked the Humane Society for "smallish" dogs and spotted a fiercely barking, little dog and it was "instantly love," Moran said.
The Morans wanted to get a leash and check out their intended pet, but no one wanted to open the cage or have anything to do with this particular dog, she said. Everyone said he is a real character and bites.
After a bit of struggle they got the leash on the dog and took him for a walk and they knew he would fit in fine and fill the void of the loss of "Barney," Moran said.
The dog was called "Hotel" because he had been in and out of the Humane Society so many times.
When the Moran's arrived home with their new little friend, AnnieMae welcomed Hotel and they kissed nose to nose.
Hotel is now named "Buddy."
Both dogs are a mix of shih tzu and poodle, AnnieMae is black and Buddy is always "dirty" blonde, Moran said.
"He has been a handful, he has been a love and he has filled the void that death and depression held for the longest time from Barney's passing," she said.
As pets provide comfort and companionship for those who are alone or ill, some humans are dedicated to helping man's best friend.
Gini Shevick of Chic Chick Boutique in Lake Placid raises money through her business to help local pet shelters and foster efforts.
She encourages people to check at Animal Control when they are looking for a new pet.
Shevick has three "rescues" that accompany her at work everyday with her latest being "Millie," who is paralyzed and drags her legs.
Millie was picked up in Miami as a stray. X-rays showed she may have been abused, which caused her handicap, Shevick said.
Along with Miller, Shevick has "Stella," a border collie from Highlands County Animal Control and "Fabio," a Boston Terrier from a rescue organization in Wauchula.
"I just try to help people find dogs that they are looking for," she said.
Some people are looking for a particular breed and may not know that they could find a pure-bread chihuahua or German Shepherd.
A car bumper sticker in the shape of a paw states the feelings of many pet owners, "Who Rescued Who?"