Owen Little doesn't know why East Haven residents are such pet lovers, but the town's animal control officer is happy that's the case.
"It makes my job so much easier," says Owen. "I like to say there is no 'I' in 'team,' and we have such an animal-loving, tight-knit community. It's pretty amazing."
Owen has been the town's animal control officer for 20 years, moving over to run the shelter on Commerce Street two decades ago after a short stint working as a foreman in East Haven's Public Works Department.
He and his fellow animal control officer, Anthony Purificato, who has been on the job a few years, are a two-man operation-"on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week," says Owen.
Owen grew up an animal lover, and owns, along with his wife, Deborah, and 14 year-old son, Parker, two dogs in his North Branford home.
"Our third" dog, Owen says sadly, "just passed away."
One of the big changes Owen says he has seen over his years as animal control officer is that, these days, he and Anthony deal with as many abandoned cats as they do dogs.
That's because, Owen says, "a lot of times we are left with cats from families who have been evicted from their homes."
The good news, he says, is that with the help of the animal-loving volunteers who help the shelter, "we have about a 95 percent adoption rate for the animals that come through here. I don't think any other town or shelter can boast a higher rate than that.
"We use Facebook and Petfinder and just about everything else we can think of to find the animals homes," he says.
Owen is thankful to all the East Haven animal lovers-not just for helping to find homes for the animals.
Showing a visitor around the shelter, Owen points to many improvements to the 50 year-old facility and emphasizes, "While we have a budget, a lot of the work done at the shelter has been paid for through fundraisers organized by our tremendous volunteers."
Mayor Joseph Maturo, Jr., describes Owen, simply, "as a great employee.
"He is looked on by his peers as one of the finest animal control officers in the state," says Maturo. "I remember a few years back when Owen and a dog both got hit by a car and had injuries...Owen brought the dog to the hospital before he went and had his own injuries taken care of. That is a super employee. He is great."
Being an animal control officer means having your phone ringing constantly for the latest emergency, animals needing immediate shelter due to home evictions, fires, deaths of pet owners, etc.
A lot of times, Owen says, when he shows up at the shelter in the morning, "I'll see an abandoned animal dumped in front of our door that needs to be taken care of.
"Thankfully," he says, "I have an understanding wife [they met at an animal shelter] who doesn't mind that I have to sometimes give up holidays or weekends to come to the shelter."