Hetti Brown is a familiar face in the world of animal welfare. During her tenure as director of Delaware's Humane Society chapter, she worked to advance animal-protection policy and raise awareness of the illegal practice of dog fighting.
Now, halfway through her first year as executive director of the new Office of Animal Welfare, Brown and her team are pushing to raise awareness of the importance of spaying and neutering pets, drafting recommendations to improve animal-control services and working with shelters to help adoption rates.
"We've been reviewing the treatment of animals in Delaware and determining emerging issues that need attention to protect both animals and the public," Brown said.
The office in the Delaware Division of Public Health was established late last year on the recommendation of a 22-member task force on animal welfare and animal control issues led by Sen. Patricia M. Blevins, D-Elsmere. The office is charged with overseeing animal shelters and promoting companion-animal welfare.
To help educate the public on the Animal Welfare License Plate spay and neuter fund, the office recently launched the Paw Draw contest to refresh the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicle's animal welfare license plate, which was first issued in the 1990s.
A one-time fee of $50 buys the plate with $35 going to the fund. Money raised by sales of the new plates may be used to support spay/neuter for free-roaming or community cats or to help people who cannot afford to have their pets sterilized.
"We thought a statewide contest would be a great way to engage the public and provide education on the importance of spaying and neutering pets," Brown said.
Entries should include both cats and dogs and support the theme "Saving the lives of Delaware animals through advocacy and spay and neuter." The deadline for entries is Aug. 30. Complete rules and guidelines are online at dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/oaw/files/pawdraw.pdf, or call (302) 255-4620. The plate will be available this fall.
As part of OAW's effort to consolidate services, in June it took over administration of the state's Spay and Neuter Program from the Department of Agriculture. The program provides services to Delaware residents receiving government benefits and to nonprofit organizations that provide spay/neuter surgeries. It is funded by a $3 surcharge on all rabies vaccinations administered in Delaware. Since its launch in 2007, more than $2 million has been collected and care has been provided to more than 16,000 animals owned by more than 7,000 residents.
Brown believes that spay/neuter initiatives, as well as the work of shelters, have helped reduce the pet population and caused a drop in the number of animals euthanized in shelters.
When the state Spay and Neuter Program was created by the legislature in 2005, 64.4 percent of animals in shelters were euthanized. The number dropped in 2013 to about 9 percent.
Later this year recommendations will be released on ways to improve animal-control services, including how to provide better service economically. First State Animal Center and SPCA, formerly Kent County SPCA, handles the dog control contracts for all three counties, including Wilmington.
"They are doing a great job, but often suffer from a lack of resources,'' Brown said. "We are working with animal-control and the legislature to address this."
Thanks to recently passed legislation, OAW also is preparing a training and certification program for animal control officers in the state.
Curbing irresponsible pet owners is another issue on the office's agenda.
"One of the factors you see in dog-bite cases is dogs running free,'' Brown said. "Another is animals that are not spayed or neutered. A large number of cases are non-neutered males, and many happen with small children.''
The office also is looking at stricter penalties for owners who continually break the law, and at the same time trying to make sure both owner and anyone who is attacked has due process.
If a dog has been seized and deemed dangerous, owners can request a panel be convened to review the case. Panels include a veterinarian, a dog behaviorist, animal control officers, kennel club experts and management representatives from local shelters.
OAW also is preparing to act on the 2010 Shelter Standards Law, another dormant initiative that mandates mandatory physical inspections and hold times before animals are euthanized to give owners a chance to find lost pets or rescues or shelters to take custody of the animal.
"I feel very positive about the momentum that's behind this office," Brown said. "The public, the legislature and the Department of Health and Human Services have been very supportive. We have a long way to go to ensure that companion animals have what they need and the public has the education and services they need."