The woman who worked nearly nonstop for five months helping provide care for the seized Buxton dogs is taking on a national challenge.

Susan Britt, director of operations for the Animal Refuge League, will become the new director of Meet Your Match training, a program run by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The program matches the personalities of pets and the people hoping to adopt them. She starts her new job Feb. 18.

“It’s a great position to be in – not leaving because of something, but leaving for something,” said Britt, who has been the director of operations at the Westbrook-based shelter for eight years.

According to Peter Cohen, president of the Animal Refuge League board of directors, Britt is going to be hard to replace.

“She’s turned the Animal Refuge League from a small, well-run shelter into a nationally recognized model,” Cohen said. “We’re really going to miss her.”

Britt first started working at the Westbrook shelter in 1995 as a volunteer. When Hilton, her 10-year-old golden retriever mix, died, Britt needed time before she could get a new dog. An English teacher, she started volunteering in order to still be able to spend time around animals. She later became a part-time staff member.

“This is my dream job,” Britt said about her position as director of operations. “This has been a phenomenal experience for me.”

According to Ann Eagan, foster care coordinator at the Animal Refuge League, Britt has been instrumental in bringing new programs to the shelter, like Paws in Stripes, which pairs pets with prisoners ,who help train them until they are ready to be adopted. Eagan said since Britt has been on board, adoption rates have increased considerably, and that’s no coincidence.

“She’s had an incredible impact,” Eagan said. “I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like without her.”

Eagan called Britt a “phenomenal director and leader,” and said the shelter will work hard to grow the programs Britt started.

A native New Yorker, Britt has been around dogs all of her life. Her parents were puppy walkers, which means they cared for future guide dogs until they were a year old and ready to go onto more intensive training.

“We typically always had at least two dogs in our household,” she said. “My parents believed we were doing an important service.”

Britt will continue to carry on that tradition as she takes on her new position with the ASPCA. Though she said it will be difficult to leave the Westbrook shelter, she is looking forward “to making a impact on a national level.”

The Meet Your Match adoption program is the first of its kind. A person who wants to adopt a dog or cat fills out a survey that determines which pet personality will fit best with the adopter’s lifestyle. Pets are assigned to one of nine personality types, from the laid-back “couch potato” to the tireless “go-getter.”

Britt already has been a trainer for Meet Your Match since 2006. She said the program helps take the focus off what a new pet looks like and places it on what it acts like. That, in the long run, will result in a more compatible companion, she said.

According to Dr. Emily Weiss, senior director of shelter behavior programs and research at the ASPCA, Britt will be the first person to hold the position of Meet Your Match training director. She said the job was created with “one candidate in mind that would be able to take the position and run with it, and that was Susan.”

Weiss said Britt would be a “great asset” to the organization.

“We’re thrilled,” she said.

Though Britt’s new job is for a national, New York-based organization, she will be able to work from her home in Cumberland, and she plans on keeping close ties to the Westbrook shelter, which has implemented the adoption program.

After working seven days a week since the puppy mill seizure, Britt will welcome a few weeks off to “reboot her brain.” Her experience working with the Buxton kennel is not one she will soon forget.

“This was a disaster in our field,” she said. “I’m very grateful that this case has resulted in so many adoptions, and these dogs are no longer in limbo.”

Britt said despite her long hours, she doesn’t feel burnt out. She thrives on projects that are moving forward, and has learned a lot from the experience of working on a large-scale seizure – something she almost expected to happen at some point in her career.

“We knew that that day would come,” said Britt, who now feels sufficiently prepared for whatever situation might crop up next. “It certainly set the stage for us to know how to do it again.”

Susan Britt, leading puppy mill caregiver, moves to new national challenge

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