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Humane Society head tries to give every dog his day

July 28, 2004|by RYAN C. TUCK

ryant@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Paul Miller never completely leaves work.

By day, he is executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County, but his duties seem to follow him home.

At their farm in Fairplay, Miller and his wife keep four horses, four dogs and three cats, most of which are adopted.

Miller is in his first year as executive director of the humane society. He replaced Maria Procopio in September 2003.

"You go to work at a shelter because you love animals," said Miller, who was born in Washington County and still has family here. He has worked in animal welfare for more than 30 years in Tennessee, California and Arizona, and as an investigator for the Humane Society of the United States.

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Of the 5,584 animals brought to the shelter during fiscal year 2004, 1,957, or 35 percent, were placed for adoption through families, breed placement or reunited with their original owner, Miller said. But 3,278, or 58 percent, of the animals had to be euthanized.

"The overall goal is to never have to euthanize an animal that is adoptable," Miller said, calling euthanization an "unfortunate reality."

Miller said the shelter tries to hold animals as long as it can, but with 5,584 animals coming in during the course of a year and a capacity to hold only around 150 at a time, tough decisions have to be made.

Miller said he and his staff of 27 and more than 120 volunteers have been working on a variety of initiatives to improve animal and resident relationships in the county.

Being proactive and "getting out there" in the county is the first step, Miller said.

Freeing up money to employ a third animal-control officer was the first step he took toward that goal.

Six officers would be ideal, Miller said, but the money the shelter currently receives from the county is not enough for that.

The Humane Society received $510,620 for fiscal year 2004 from the Washington County Commissioners. This year the agency asked for nearly $1.3 million - a budget increase of $780,000. The county approved a new budget of just more than $525,000, according to published reports.

Miller said one of his biggest goals is to obtain a grant for a mobile spaying and neutering service for the county, which would help with the growing animal population. Residents need to spay and neuter their animals as soon as possible, he said. The county offers a voucher program to assist with the costs of spaying or neutering.

"Get them into a local veterinarian," Miller said, adding that he never has seen a case of a neutered animal attacking a person.

Improving residents' understanding of how an animal thinks and encouraging responsible pet ownership are other goals, Miller said.

"We don't want to adopt an animal out if it's going to come right back," he said.

The form all prospective pet owners are required to fill out and a more involved adoption process are steps Miller said he has taken to achieve that goal.

Humane Society officials look to see if applicants will be around to care and play with an animal, what type of housing situation they will provide and any pet history, and then compare that with the type of personality the staff has observed the animal to have when suggesting an animal to an applicant, Miller said.

Residents can visit the shelter on Maugansville Road and see an analysis of the animal's personality on its cage, along with information on age, weight and sex.

"We try and find the right pick," Miller said.

Miller knows that controlling the animal population, minimizing euthanization and increasing pet adoptions are big goals, but he said he is excited to be pursuing them.

For more information about pet adoption or to report a problem with an animal, call the Humane Society at 301-733-2060.

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