Dog days come a little late for Neall Animals help mark privatization move

September 24, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

As county executive, Robert R. Neall has had to deal with a lot of characters, but he had never seen the likes of the pack of curs that showed up at his office yesterday.

Actually, the canines were anything but threatening. They were helping to celebrate the privatization of three volunteer programs serving senior citizens, including the popular Pets on Wheels, which brings dogs, cats and a pot-bellied pig to visit county nursing home residents.

The parade of six dogs trotting through the halls of the Arundel Center brought some stares from county workers. The air was thick with dog puns.

"They were better behaved than my Cabinet," said Mr. Neall, who posed with a Norwegian elkhound named Annie while signing the privatization contract. "And more cooperative, too. Nobody got bitten. Somebody always gets bitten at my Cabinet meetings."

The county's latest privatization effort involves its senior outreach programs, which include visits to nursing homes by adult volunteers, by the pets and by children in the "Mom and Me" program. More than 300 people volunteer a total of 10,000 hours each year visiting the elderly and disabled at the county's nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and adult day care centers.

The county will give the Life Out reach/Pets on Wheels program, which has for some time been run as a nonprofit corporation, a grant for $24,290. In turn, one of two staff members who had been employed by the county on a contract basis to run its outreach programs will be paid by the nonprofit corporation. The second staff position was dropped.

Mr. Neall said the privatization move, which will save the county about $20,000 a year, should not affect the quality of service. "I don't think the people who are at the nursing homes will notice the difference," he said.

The effect of receiving a visit from a pet or a child can be profound, said Louis Poulson, chairman of the advisory board for the three volunteer programs. "We had a woman who never talked," he said. "We brought this cat in, and she petted it on the head and said, 'That's a lovely cat.'

"You'd be surprised. Some of the people in these nursing homes don't get any visitors."

Joanne Swansiger said she takes the eight children in her day care center to a Glen Burnie nursing home every Tuesday morning. "When you walk in, you light up their lives," she said, as 21-month-old Bobby Nowland, one of the children who accompanies her to the nursing home, played with her two spaniels.

"They've seen him grow from a little, tiny baby to a toddler."

Meanwhile, Mr. Neall, who seemed to be having a little too much fun playing with the pets and posing with them for photographers, admitted his prejudice.

"I've got to be honest with you: I've been a dog person all my life," said Mr. Neall, who owns a part-black Labrador, part-Dalmatian that answers to Ann E. Rundel. "So I've just blown the cat vote."

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