Joyce McClain is enamored of animals. She gave up her job in an ophthalmologist's office nine years ago to work as an animal caretaker for the Washington Humane Society.

This fall, the woman who found homes for stray dogs even as a child was named director of the D.C. Animal Shelter and charged with rebuilding a shelter staff buffeted by change over the past year.

"I always had pets," said McClain, "from rabbits to hamsters to mice." As a junior high school student, she adopted out two stray dogs her mother wouldn't let her keep. Today she owns three dogs, two cats, a ferret and a hamster, and she provides foster care for four puppies.

McClain, of Landover, has risen through the ranks of the Humane Society.

In 1998 she was promoted to kennel manager, supervising all caretakers and the feeding and medication of animals. In 2002 she was named supervisory office manager, overseeing customer service and the field dispatch staff.

"She's got so many years of animal sheltering experience," said Jody Huckaby, executive director of the Humane Society. "She knows the District, she feels passionate about animal welfare and she's got great people skills."

McClain, 34, said her first job is to "try to get things back in order" as the shelter grapples with filling several positions, including a supervisory office manager and an animal control officer.

When the hiring is completed, McClain will oversee 3 supervisors, 7 officers, 10 front-desk staff members and 14 caretakers. The shelter, at 1201 New York Ave. NE, handles about 13,000 animal cases a year.

"Before making long-term goals, I'm going to have to make sure customer service is excellent, adoptions are processed well, the staff cleans the correct way and animal health is maintained," McClain said. She also wants to make sure that animal control officers respond to calls in a timely manner.

The shelter's staffing difficulties began last year, when the city refused to give the society a long-term contract to operate it. After the society relinquished control of the facility on Sept. 4, 2003, Health Department staff members stepped in to run it temporarily. About 10 Humane Society workers, including supervisors such as McClain, were replaced.

The city then awarded the contract to run the shelter to a Canadian firm but halted the deal in mid-October 2003, after animal rights groups raised objections. During the city's subsequent negotiations with the society, McClain took a job as a caretaker with a dog day-care company in Silver Spring.

After several months, the society was awarded a three-year contract, plus two one-year renewal options, and it returned May 19 to operate the shelter.

In addition to running the shelter, McClain said, she will seek to reach out to the public, to encourage the reporting of stray animals and to hold functions at the facility to promote animal adoptions. "I want to make sure people bring animals to the shelter, versus dumping them in the street," she said.

The shelter is part of the District's animal control division, which enforces laws covering strays, animal bites, dangerous pets, unleashed or rabid animals and other situations. The shelter also takes in sick or injured wildlife.

Jim Monsma, who had served as interim shelter director since the Department of Health left, recently returned to his responsibilities as the society's director of communications and as its liaison to the Department of Health, which is responsible for animal control.

The society also operates the Washington Humane Society Shelter, at 7319 Georgia Ave. NW. Rosemary Vozobule is director of the facility, which is independent of the city. That shelter's staff primarily enforces the District's anti-cruelty laws involving animal abuse and neglect cases, and provides humane animal education to local schools. Like the D.C. shelter, the society shelter adopts out animals.

Joyce McClain, a longtime Humane Society employee who was recently named director of the city animal shelter, says, "I always had pets."