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Finding, saving pets is warden's reward
Finding, saving pets is warden's reward
By SUE REID
Even after 33 years in the field of animal control, the best thing about his job as animal warden for the City of Solon, Gregory Miller said, is finding a lost dog. "When a person calls and says they lost their dog and you find it, that's the best thing," he said.
Solon's animal warden for the past eight years, Mr. Miller, a resident of Reminderville, recalled a story of a woman who, in the middle of winter, lost her Great Dane and could not figure out where it went. The woman's house backed up to the Cleveland Metroparks, he said, and he began tracking the dog there. After three miles, he found the dog, whose legs had become tangled in its blanket.
"The dog did not like me," Mr. Miller said with a laugh, "but I held onto it until I was able to direct its owner to it."
He had tracked the dog across ponds, where it had been on unsafe ice, he said. If he had not found it and it had been there overnight, unable to move, it would have died because of the freezing temperatures, he said.
"Even though the dog didn't like me, I was just so happy to find it," Mr. Miller said.
That satisfaction, which involves working with people and eventually solving their problems, is a part of what drives Mr. Miller, a former professional dog trainer, he said.
In his role as animal warden, Mr. Miller works to "reduce conflicts between animals and people," he said. "A lot of my work now is 70 percent wildlife and 25 percent domestic animals."
Complaints he addresses range from raccoons in chimneys or skunks in back yards to deer eating out of residents' bird feeders, geese leaving droppings and dogs barking.
Whenever he receives a complaint, the first thing he does is find out exactly what the problem is, he said. "I then see if we can find out the cause of that problem and eliminate that cause." For the raccoon that makes its way into a chimney, for example, Mr. Miller will make it so the animal cannot get into the chimney anymore.
When told of five raccoons in a resident's back yard, Mr. Miller discovered bird feeders and bowls where they went for food. He educated the resident on avoiding having the food so attainable.
"It's a little bit of education," he said. "If you do it the right way, people understand."
Mr. Miller said, in general, with relation to complaints about dogs barking, people are very receptive to their neighbors' concerns. "Every once in a while, we give them an invitation to court," her said, "but that's very rare."
Some of the sadder stories with relation to the job involve those animals that are abandoned, many of which are dumped in the Metroparks by their owners, he said.
"We get quite a few dogs like that," Mr. Miller said. Unless the owner is known, if a dog is running loose, it is turned over to the Cuyahoga County Kennels, where it is held for three days, he said. From there, if the dog is adoptable, it is put up for adoption.
There have been a few cases over the years where he has had to remove owners' animals from their homes. In one instance, a woman was raising Siamese cats and had over 100 of them, he said. What brought the situation to light was the odor coming from the home that was reported by neighbors, Mr. Miller said, plus the fact that people were trying to purchase the cats and found that they were sick.
"We had to take her to court," Mr. Miller said. "The cats were awarded to us." He put the word out through a humane organization and was able to place all of the cats, he said.
Another situation had a similar happy ending when a Solon resident was discovered to be raising Labrador retrievers in her home and had 118 of them, along with 15 cats. Through the connections Mr. Miller created over the years, he was able to place all of those animals in homes, as well, he said. "It was phenomenal. Over a two-day period, we found homes for all of those Labs."
Through the years, Mr. Miller has run into a lot of different people from a lot of different organizations, he said. He works regularly with the Animal Protective League and the Public Animal Welfare Society.
He said that with a stray cat, for example, typically, the city's obligation is to hold it for a certain period of time, and then it needs to be disposed of. By working with those agencies, Mr. Miller said, they are able to be put up for adoption. It is very rare that the cats are put down anymore, he said.
Moving forward, perhaps more animals may be abandoned next year with all of the home foreclosures, he said.
He also sees an increase in dogs being lost and not found around the July 4 holiday because of the noise, Mr. Miller said. At Christmas, more dog bites are reported because of all the activity in the home with children.
Lately, he's been hearing of problems with turkeys, 150 of which are living in Solon, he said.
"When I get a phone call, I get back to the resident that same day or sooner," he said. He also does a lot of foot patrol, where he talks to people and lets them know who he is, he said. "I have a real good relationship with people in the city."
Solon Police Chief Wayne Godzich said Mr. Miller is more than an animal-control officer who picks up stray dogs and cats. "He is an essential part of the police department and knows the value of public service and delivers it professionally and consistently," he said.
"He goes out of his way to find new homes for animals that would normally be euthanized," Mr. Godzich said.
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