The Naperville Area Humane Society is preparing to celebrate its 35th anniversary next month with the dedication of a sculpture near the Riverwalk.
And as it's marking that milestone with a ceremony Aug. 17, the society is transitioning to new leadership under Executive Director Anna Payton, who took over the position in May from Angie Wood.
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The Daily Herald pulled Payton, 33, of Plainfield, away from the dogs and cats for a few minutes for a conversation about her background in animal shelters and her goals for the society. Here is an edited version of that conversation.
Q. What attracted you to the Naperville Area Humane Society?
A. I've known Angie for 10 years. I previously worked at DuPage County Animal Control and I had been working at Kendall County Animal Control as the executive director. I was very familiar with the organization and excited to join. They do a lot of really wonderful things and focus on the animals and also the people in the community.
Q. What do you love about your job?
A. Seeing the animals go home, especially if they came from a not-so-good situation or a rough start, but they came in, got vet care, TLC, food. There's no better feeling in the world than seeing that process through and seeing someone take that animal home, knowing that animal is going to make a difference in their life.
Q. How many pets do you have?
A. I do take my work home with me a little bit. I have two dogs, one from Kendall County Animal Control and one from DuPage County. And I have three cats, two from DuPage County and one from Champaign County Animal Control.
Q. What brought you to Champaign?
A. School. I went to school there to become a vet. I wasn't allowed to have a dog or a cat growing up, so I had a lot of hamsters, gerbils, goldfish and a parakeet, who really didn't like me.
But like any animal-loving kid, I wanted to be a vet. I got very interested in sheltering and pit bulls and the issue of dogfighting through a class I took at the University of Illinois. Then I got an internship at DuPage County Animal Control and that told me animal sheltering was my calling.
Q. What have you been working on since joining the Naperville Area Humane Society?
A. We've recently spent almost $90,000 on renovations, including a new security and fire system, a new front window and front desk, lighting upgrades for energy efficiency and a flat-screen TV to scroll information about upcoming events and educational opportunities.
Our dog kennels have been completely replaced with brand-new flooring in the back to make it easier for cleaning and dog control. It's no longer cinder block and chain-link fence. We've painted the kennel walls bright green. It's a little more happy feeling. And we can actually open the windows in the kennels now.
We've painted our cat rooms and installed new floors.
Q. What are your goals for the society in the future?
A. I want us to be more well-known. I want to be the organization people go to when they want to adopt a pet and be their primary resource for animal welfare. I want us to continue offering summer camps and our adult education series. We have a maximum of 10 kids in our summer camps and we have a waiting list every year, so I would like to expand that program and maybe partner with the park district or the YMCA to gain more space.
Q. What are your thoughts about the issue of puppy mills, which recently has been discussed in Naperville?
A. A lot of people consider dogs part of the family, so I think the city's decision of whether to prohibit the sale of dogs from puppy mills is really indicative of how it operates and city leaders' viewpoint on the issue.
As a shelter operator, I look at the pet overpopulation issue. Gathering statistics from my organization, DuPage County Animal Control, Naperville Animal Control and ADOPT Pet Shelter, the number of unwanted dogs in 2013 was 178. That includes strays and dogs that were owner-surrendered.
My conclusion is that, obviously, there is an oversaturatoin in the market already. If you create a market like this, which will increase the saturation of dogs, that can lead to an increased number of stray dogs.
The type of businesses that are allowed reflects the image of the city. Naperville should consider the humane model vs. selling dogs from puppy mills.