- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 31, 2006

HAGERSTOWN, Md. - From New Jersey dogfights to California rat hoarders, Paul Miller has investigated more animal cruelty than many others could stomach.

In a coast-to-coast career spanning nearly 30 years, he has gone undercover, written up charges and carried a badge.

Mr. Miller, executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County, is not a police officer, but a humane officer.

He is among thousands of animal welfare workers across the country whose nonprofit employers have contracted with local governments to provide animal control services.

It’s a little-understood profession that sometimes produces big headlines.

Early last month, Mr. Miller investigated reports of a dead horse on a Western Maryland farm and found 75 neglected horses.

A few days earlier, he tipped off authorities that a man convicted of throwing his girlfriend’s kittens into a fire was living with her and her cats in apparent violation of his probation.

Mr. Miller said that fighting animal abuse is just part of his job. His agency contracts with the county to enforce animal cruelty laws.

It’s been an aspect of nearly every job Mr. Miller has held since he was hired by the Humane Society of Carroll County a few years out of high school in the mid-1970s.

“It was a small shelter,” said Mr. Miller, a burly, soft-spoken man with gray hair and beard. “You went in and cleaned in the morning, you went out on the road and did animal control functions and came back and fed and euthanized, and the next day, start all over.”

He took the job because he needed one but was surprised by the range of opportunities in animal work, including anti-cruelty investigations.

He said he spent part of the 1980s as an undercover field agent for the Humane Society of the United States, investigating dogfighting and cockfighting in Mid-Atlantic states.

“I think that’s when you first realized how in-depth dogfighting was and how widespread it was,” Mr. Miller said. “It was more than I anticipated.”

After a stint working for an Indiana maker of animal-transport vehicles, Mr. Miller moved to California.

In 1987, while overseeing field services for the Humane Society of Santa Clara Valley, he became involved in the investigation of the death of a 2-year-old boy killed by a pit bull.

The dog’s owner, Michael Patrick Berry, was charged with second-degree murder in the nation’s first such case involving a murder charge.

A jury convicted Berry of manslaughter, a lesser offense.

“The local police department had actually been called when it happened, but I was involved because it was a pit bull,” Mr. Miller said. “I became involved because of my knowledge of dogfighting and stuff.”

Later, as operations director of Peninsula Humane Society in San Mateo, Calif., Mr. Miller saw a case of rat hoarding: 300 domestic rats kept by a woman and her brother in a town house that also held three cats.

“When I started, they were called animal collectors,” Mr. Miller said. “We didn’t know too much about it; we just knew that there were those people that had too many animals.”

Animal hoarding has since become recognized as a pathological behavior.

It is likely that up to a quarter-million animals a year are victims, according to the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium at Tufts University.

Mr. Miller met his wife, dog trainer and author Pat Miller, in California. From there, they moved to Chattanooga, Tenn., where Mr. Miller managed a newly formed municipal animal control program from 1999 to 2003.

In September 2003, he returned to Maryland. He and his wife have four horses, five dogs and two cats.

John Mays, executive director of the National Animal Control Association, said Mr. Miller is widely known and respected in the profession.

The self-effacing Mr. Miller said he has tried only to do a good job.

“There’s a lot of officers, personnel within animal welfare within the United States, who have had a lot bigger impact than I have had on animals. I just do what I can to help those that are within the scope of my responsibilities,” he said.

Mr. Mays said about a third of the National Animal Control Association’s 9,811 member agencies are local Humane Societies, Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and similar organizations.

Governments often contract with such groups for animal control because it’s cheaper than recruiting and training police officers for the work, said Wendy Balazik, spokeswoman for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide