HOUSTON — UPDATE: Panda was adopted Friday afternoon!

-- 

When Kerry McKeel saw a 7-year-old lab mix come into the Harris County Animal Shelter Thursday morning, she could immediately tell how loyal the dog was to her owner.

What McKeel struggled to understand was why the dog's tearful owner was surrendering her to the shelter.

McKeel, the shelter’s senior communications specialist, inquired more about the dog. That's when she learned the heartbreaking story.

The dog’s name is Panda, and her owner was diagnosed with cancer and could no longer support her physically or financially. Her owner was also leaving for Mexico for more affordable treatment.

“This pup’s world has been turned upside down,” McKeel said. “Everything that was familiar is gone.”

WATCH: Panda the dog playing at the Harris County Animal Shelter

McKeel said she took Panda back to a pen near her desk so Panda would avoid the main kennels that are crammed with three or more dogs. When McKeel went to get Panda a blanket and water, she said Panda had escaped and ran back to her owner’s feet.

“She is a fiercely loyal companion,” McKeel said.

Panda understands both English and Spanish, loves children and other animals, McKeel said. She’s also spayed, housebroken and healthy. McKeel is hoping to find a new home for her right away – either through adoption or foster.

There are 168 animals available for adoption or foster at the shelter as of Thursday afternoon. All adoptions must take place at the shelter at 612 Canino Road in north Houston. People wishing to adopt must be at least 18 years old. Adoptions include vaccinations, spay or neuter, a microchip and a one-year pet license.

Most importantly for Panda, McKeel said, she is available to go to a loving home today.

PHOTOS: Adoptable Animals: Meet Tex, Oreo and Panda at the Harris County Animal Shelter