Miller reflects on new job as SCHS director

Published 10:52 pm Friday, June 24, 2011

Shelby County Humane Society Executive Director Jenny Miller stands with a puppy inside the facility on June 24. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – Jenny Miller didn’t need to read the job description.

When the 31-year-old attorney learned the Shelby County Humane Society needed an executive director, she said she knew what the vacancy required.

She resigned as president of the humane society’s board of directors, submitted a resume and was hired away from a Birmingham law firm.

“I knew what I was getting myself into,” Miller said June 24, reflecting on her first three months as executive director. “I have a real passion for it.”

She spent the first three months as executive director looking for new, creative ways to raise money and awareness for the humane society.

In May, a wine tasting and auction raised more than $21,000.

In June, cat adoption fees were waived for two weeks, leading to a 115 percent increase in cat adoptions for June 2011 compared to June 2010.

In July, an Independence Day-themed promotion will offer adoptions for $17.76. Also, a new program called “Training Wheels” will launch.

For the training wheels program, a coordinator will drive a vehicle loaded with supplies across the county, looking for potential problems. It’s a proactive approach.

“If there’s an area where we see a dog chained up, we go to the home and we offer them a free dog house,” Miller said.

The program also will distribute crate-training materials, discuss animal behavioral issues with owners and provide litter box training for cats.

“If we can make sure that the union between the pet and the owner is a good one, that pet is not going to end up here at the shelter,” Miller said. “We want to help that situation before it gets to that breaking point.”

In 2010, that breaking point came for the 4,960 pets which passed through the humane society. There were 892 local adoptions, and another 1,081 dogs taken to adoption centers in Maine and New Hampshire.

With 400 animals now at the humane society, the shelter is near capacity, not surprising since summer months historically see a rise in animals, Miller said. Reducing the number of animals at the shelter is the biggest challenge, she said.

“Our second greatest challenge is our mere location within the county,” Miller said, noting the shelter’s distance from Interstate 65 and U.S. 280.

“A lot of people just aren’t motivated to make that trek here,” she added.

It’s her job, she said, to use her passion, education and previous experience to find ways to bring people to the humane society, or take outreach programs from the McDow Road headquarters to municipalities throughout the county.

Raised in Alabaster, Miller graduated from Thompson High School in 1998. At the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she majored in history and political science, with a minor in social science, before completing a master’s degree in history. She got a law degree from Indiana University.

She also has experience working with non-profit groups, which “coupled with my law degree set me up for this position,” she said.

It’s a labor of love. Just ask a family of cats in Japan.

While teaching English at Iki High School in Nagasaki from 2002 to 2004, Miller adopted a stray cat. Miller found adoptive homes for the cat’s litter of kittens and, eventually, a home for the mother cat.

She began volunteering with the humane society in 2008 as an adoption counselor at Petsmart. She made at least 10 trips to Maine and New Hampshire with other volunteers, each time hauling a van loaded with dogs for adoption.

The humane society is now her full-time job. She often works more than 40 hours a week and pulls all-weekend shifts when needed. She’s not complaining.

“You have a job description,” she said, “but when there’s a need, you have to fill that need.”