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Few to control the tide

Day spent with animal control officer reveals accomplishments and frustrations of his work

Day spent with animal control officer reveals accomplishments and frustrations of his work

November 25, 2007|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Not used to being an orphan, the newborn kitten would not easily be contained by the towel wrapped around it.

The kitten cried and cried and cried, even though a woman in Noland Village was nice enough to bring it in from the cold after its mother was killed by a passing vehicle.

It was trying to break free and find mama.

This would be the first call of the shift for animal control officer Paul Miller, who was called to take the kitten away.

It was the beginning of a routine day - the kitty would go back to the Humane Society of Washington County, where Humane Society workers would prepare it in case someone wanted to adopt it.

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Through a contract with the county, animal control officers working for the humane society enforce the county's animal control ordinances. They also serve as humane officers and enforce state laws, which address "neglect, cruelty, poisoning, dog-fighting, those things you see on Animal Planet," Miller said.

Two officers serve the entire county. Miller, executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County, is temporarily filling in as one of those two officers. The other animal officer will soon be on maternity leave.

Miller said he drives an average of 100 miles a day each shift.

Miller's shift on a recent Friday consisted mostly of checking on owners told to get rabies shots and licenses for their pets, and responding to complaints of barking dogs and "vicious" animals running at large - dogs that, at least on the day The Herald-Mail tagged along, greeted Miller with wagging tails and licks.

In more than 30 years on the job, he's only been bitten once.

The job does have its memorable moments - some Miller saw while working in a similar position in California - like the guy with 100 pairs of breeding snakes in his garage and the guy who kept a bald eagle in his back yard for 20 years.

Recently, he's been responding to stray iguana calls in Washington County.

"People like weird and unusual (pets)," Miller said. "They get it home and find it's not as cute and cuddly as they thought."

On Friday, most of the pet owners he dealt with received warnings.

"A lot of times the only way people understand what we do is when we knock on their door," he said. "Then, they're afraid they've done something wrong or that we're there to take away their pets."

"Or," Miller said, "People will call us and say, 'How come you just can't take that dog away?' and I have to explain to them that we just can't take people's animals; they're considered personal property.'"

There were other calls on Friday that could not be resolved by a warning notice. They required lengthier investigations, Miller said.

He visited a Smithsburg residence last known to house 11 dogs, many on tangled leashes tied to trees out of reach from their water tubs. The dogs' owner was not home. Miller also responded to a call at a house near Leitersburg where more than 20 dogs were living recently.

Miller said the worst feeling with his job is knowing that you can't always help all the animals.

He's already doing what he can personally. The pets at his Fairplay home - the four dogs, two cats and five horses - came from shelters.

Rescues like the newborn kitten found that morning can be rewarding, Miller said. Had the kitten stayed in the streets, it would have died.

But if a foster home cannot be found, the kitten will be euthanized, Miller said.

On average, the Humane Society takes in 5,600 animals a year - 3,500 of them cats. Cats have a 5 to 10 percent chance of being adopted, Miller said. Dogs' chances are around 80 to 90 percent. Washington County is saturated with cats.

"They're breeding as fast as we're able to spay-nueter," Miller said. "It's like we're treading water."

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