Al Roker was hesitant to get a dog, but he fell in love with his rescue dog, Pepper
Credit: Photograph by Meredith Jenks

It was a surprising love-at-first-sight for Al Roker and his adopted dog, Pepper.

“I always made fun of the people with those little rat dogs, but the great thing about Pepper is she’s small, but she has a big personality,” Roker, 61, says. “She runs, she chases stuff, she plays fetch.”

“She’s not a lap dog, but you rub her belly and she’s yours. She’s the perfect dog.”

Roker and his family, wife Deborah Roberts, an ABC News journalist, and kids Leila, 17 and Nick, 14, found Pepper through the Main Line Animal Rescue outside Philadelphia in September 2012.

“Our son Nick [who was 10 at the time] was very afraid of dogs, but when he saw Pepper she just came right to him and he squatted down and joined her,” Roker says. “That kind of sealed the deal.”

The Today show coanchor, though, was reluctant at first to get a family dog, and says he put it off as long as possible. But Pepper even got Roker to let up on a little of his germaphobia.

“I was one of those people who said the dog’s not supposed to be sleeping with you,” he says. “And of course she sleeps on the bed now. The foot of the bed! But still. She’s been slowly working her way up.”

Pepper rarely gets into trouble, Roker says, other than chewing on a pair of Roberts’ Louboutin’s when she was a puppy. Otherwise, she’s the ideal dog.

“I keep saying that we lucked out and got a one-in-a-million dog,” he says. “She’s pretty quiet, but she’s got a good personality. She’s not too big, not too small. She’s like the Goldilocks dog. She’s just right.”

Interested in pet rescue? As part of Clear the Shelters — a national adoption event organized by NBC Universal — hundreds of animal shelters across the country will offer no-cost or reduced fee adoptions on July 23. Go to to see participating shelters. And tune in to NBC’s Clear The Shelters TV Special on July 29 (check local listings).

To see more stars and their rescue pets, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.