THE ANNE Arundel County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has the highest adoption rate of shelters in this area.
''We adopt out more than 60 percent,'' says Frank Branchini, who has been the society's director for a year.
Mimi Baker, his assistant, says ''We screen carefully and we stress the importance of returning to us an animal that is not satisfactory, and we find it another home. Most returns are by those people who adopt a puppy and just don't understand that it will need training and patience,'' she says. Baker also saves golden retrievers with the breed's rescue group.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Arundel SPCA, 1815 Bay Ridge Avenue in Annapolis.
Over the years, many changes have been made there in buildings, educational programs and the addition of a boarding kennel, but the concern and care of the shelter animals has remained constant.
On 12 acres, three main buildings house the volunteer and education center, the boarding kennels and the shelter kennels. Five wooded acres are a natural wildlife preserve.
Staff includes Micki Main, director of the shelter and boarding kennels. Her assistant, Karena Schreiner, makes cruelty investigations. Joan Stuller is office manager, and Laurie McCain is her assistant.
Branchini attributes much of the shelter's success with adoptions and animal care to the 450 active volunteers. ''Each day there is a group helping to walk the dogs, clean the kennels, help plan fund-raisers, coordinate special events and much more,'' he says.
Leslie Lawton, volunteer coordinator, points out that the shelter is funded totally by donations and that volunteers are a top resource for help. ''They help in every way, particularly following up on adoptions. Each Tuesday evening, a group comes to the office to make calls to be sure adopted animals are doing well,'' she says.
Carol Jamieson handles the Purina Pets for People program in which the dog food manufacturer absorbs the cost of adoption )) of a pet for those age 60 or over.
Recently Branchini was photographed with Poochie, a small fox terrier type, about age 3. Shortly after the photograph was taken, Diana and Raymond Snyder of Ferndale were in the shelter looking for ''a small dog that was good with children and hopefully house trained. The workers there told us they had just the dog for us and they did. Poochie is perfect and will never be returned,'' says Diana.
The couple has a son, Jeffrey, 8 years old, and a daughter, Valerie, age 8 weeks. Diana offers day care for four children and says Poochie loves to play when them, but when he is tired she has three places he can hide.
Poochie, they believe, had been mistreated by a man. ''While he is nothing but gentle with the children and very friendly with women, he always growls at men, even Raymond until he began to trust him,'' says Diana.
Small animals such as hamsters, gerbils, mice and rabbits are also accepted at the SPCA. On a recent afternoon, Branchini was nursing a bitten finger. ''One of the white mice got me when I caught him,'' he said, explaining that ''We have some office cats and when the mouse got out I was afraid they might get him before I did,'' he explained.
Branchini, who formerly headed Maryland Legislation for Animal Welfare, a statewide lobbying network on animal legislation, is an advocate of adopting the older dog. ''They seldom are destructive or need training and are thankful for that second chance with a good owner,'' he says.
The SPCA workers make every attempt to get accurate information and make a proper evaluation of each animal. ''If, however, a family gets a dog which it does not like, we want it back,'' he says.
The cost to adopt a dog or cat from the Anne Arundel County SPCA is $20. ''Our county has a very good spay and neuter law, which is enforced. When a pet is adopted from us, the new owner must sign a legally binding contract to have that animal spayed within a given time and return a certificate signed by the veterinarian. It may be altered for a very reduced cost in our clinic. Whichever, we follow up,'' he says.
SPCA hours are: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday; 2 to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. Closed Sunday. To report cruelty or other animal cases, call 268-4388. To make arrangements to board your pet, call 268-1769.
For general information, to volunteer or to donate to the society, call 1-268-2659.