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Meet Weston's Dogs' Best Friend

Animal control officer Mark Harper isn't at all like the cartoonishly nasty dog catchers of the movies. When he nabs a stray, or a pet that's been abandoned because the owner couldn't care of it, Harper takes it to the dog pound, where the pooch gets central air, music and three walks a day. And though the state requires him to keep dogs only seven days before euthanizing them, he doesn't do that unless the animal's terminally ill.

"If that dog is happy and healthy, I keep the dog for months until I find a home," say Harper, Weston's animal control officer for the past 20 years. "We have a no-kill policy on healthy, happy dogs."

The Weston native, who owned Harper's Weston Service Station for 23 years, says the town is fortunate to have ample shelter space and few strays. He says the town also pays vet bills for the dogs so they eventually can be adopted.

"If an animal comes to me sick and I take it to the vet and they say, 'Mark, we can fix it,' I fix it, whatever it costs," said Harper, who just the other day rescued a hawk that was hit by a car.

When not rescuing stray dogs and other wildlife, Harper is investigating illegal hunts and checking wild animals that have come in contact with humans for rabies. A few years ago, he said, hunters were shooting deer with crossbows at night and leaving them to die in people's yards. He is in favor of legal hunting, and encourages it as a way of reducing Lyme disease.

"Working in the town you grew up in is a lot of fun for me," said Harper, who receives between 1,100 and 1,400 calls a year. "I really like my job ... it's rewarding to see people get their pets back. It's rewarding to see a program that you start be successful."

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